Election 2020

Why Trump’s Elections Challenges Are Nothing Like Bush v. Gore

Bush assembled a high-powered legal team. Trump is relying mostly on cronies.

By , a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy.
Corey Lewandowski, former campaign advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump (right), and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speak to the media about a court order giving the Trump campaign access to observe vote counting operations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 5.
Corey Lewandowski, former campaign advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump (right), and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speak to the media about a court order giving the Trump campaign access to observe vote counting operations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 5. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The Trump campaign’s legal challenges in Pennsylvania over ballot counting and mail-in deadlines have evoked memories of the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. President Donald Trump’s own lawyers have cited the case in their Pennsylvania lawsuit, which seeks to prevent voters from fixing problems with their absentee ballots, arguing that if only some counties were doing this, it violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. 

But there’s little chance that this race will end up like 2000, when the winning candidate wasn’t announced until Dec. 12. For one thing, legal experts doubt that the Trump team’s claims have much merit. Also, Trump’s legal team looks nothing like the formidable group assembled by James Baker, the architect of Bush’s legal strategy. According to a new biography on Baker, The Man Who Ran Washington by the journalists Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, his reputation was so formidable that Gore’s supporters “knew they would lose the moment they heard of his selection.”

Bush’s legal team included three future Supreme Court justices—John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—as well as Ted Cruz, now a U.S. senator, and John Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor. 

The Trump campaign’s legal challenges in Pennsylvania over ballot counting and mail-in deadlines have evoked memories of the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. President Donald Trump’s own lawyers have cited the case in their Pennsylvania lawsuit, which seeks to prevent voters from fixing problems with their absentee ballots, arguing that if only some counties were doing this, it violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. 

But there’s little chance that this race will end up like 2000, when the winning candidate wasn’t announced until Dec. 12. For one thing, legal experts doubt that the Trump team’s claims have much merit. Also, Trump’s legal team looks nothing like the formidable group assembled by James Baker, the architect of Bush’s legal strategy. According to a new biography on Baker, The Man Who Ran Washington by the journalists Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, his reputation was so formidable that Gore’s supporters “knew they would lose the moment they heard of his selection.”

Bush’s legal team included three future Supreme Court justices—John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—as well as Ted Cruz, now a U.S. senator, and John Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor. 

But Trump has struggled to attract such an all-star cast. The New York Times reported that Trump has leaned on his family and on former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as he seeks to ratchet up his legal strategy, with son-in-law Jared Kushner casting about on Wednesday to find a “James Baker-like” figure to lead their efforts. 

Trump’s current lineup of lawyers includes his personal lawyers, Giuliani and Jay Sekulow; former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi; and Sidney Powell, who served as a lawyer for former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The firebrand former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has become the public face of the campaign’s legal challenges in Nevada, although he is not a lawyer.

The Biden campaign, in contrast, assembled a team of hundreds of lawyers ahead of the election, anticipating that Trump would raise legal issues. Biden’s operation is overseen by his campaign’s general counsel, Dana Remus, and by Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel in the Obama administration. Other lawyers on the team include Donald B. Verrilli Jr. and Walter Dellinger, who are both former solicitors general, as well as Eric Holder, who served as Barack Obama’s attorney general.

Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack

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