Former Bush campaign manager offers perspective on 2020 election


Joe Allbaugh, former campaign manager and FEMA director under George W. Bush, said political disagreement has become deeply personal, to a point he has not seen in his lifetime. This image is courtesy of a Zoom interview with Gaylord News correspondent Emma Sears.

WASHINGTON — An Oklahoma native who played a key role in George W. Bush’s 2000 White House bid said President Trump “has every right” to “fight through the legal remedies available to him” against several states in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

Joe Allbaugh, who managed Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, said Trump’s planned lawsuits claiming ballot fraud in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania are well within his rights to pursue.

“This is a country that was formed out of agreements and disagreements,” Allbaugh said. “It used to be OK to disagree, but it seems like a lot of people automatically shut folks down and don’t want to have that discussion.”

Allbaugh was Bush’s chief of staff during his term as Texas governor starting in 1995, before serving as Bush’s campaign manager in the contentious 2000 race for the White House. That election culminated with the U.S. Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore, which settled a disputed recount in Florida in Bush’s favor.

Other states with close margins of less than 1 percent in 2000 included Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin.

“The biggest difference between the election 20 years ago and the current one is the fact that the networks have declared Biden the winner,” Albaugh said. 

The 2020 election between incumbent Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic President-elect Joe Biden has focused renewed attention on how differently states can cast their votes for president, which was further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The public health crisis prompted many states, in an attempt to curb increased exposure to the virus, to extend their mail-in ballot deadlines this year.

Because of such rules, some states could not begin counting mail-in votes until the end of business hours on Nov. 3, Election Day. That led to disputes in various counties and states where Trump was initially leading because of high-in person voting, but where the counting of mail-in ballots caused Trump’s lead to shrink or flipped the lead to Biden.

“There has to be for federal elections, particularly for the presidency, some standardization with how we do this nationwide,” Allbaugh said. “It’s a mess, and the country deserves certainty.”

To comply with the Electoral College process, states must certify their election results for president and vice president by Dec. 14, the same day electors cast their ballots. 

The Trump campaign is calling for a recount in Wisconsin, where media outlets have projected a narrow win for Biden, but particular attention is being paid to Georgia, where Biden is leading and two U.S. Senate races are key to which party secures control of the Senate. 

“I’m not so sure that all the different states that are under question this time will be resolved as quickly as those four or five states in 2000,” Allbaugh said. “This one has a distinct feel that it could go on for some time.”

Allbaugh also served as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 2001 to 2003 and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections from 2016 to 2019. He said the 2000 Bush campaign moved quickly to start a transition team. 

“Every day we didn’t have any positive action or a ruling in our favor was a day that we could not recoup on setting up a transitional government,” Allbaugh said. “We made the decision to move forward, caught hell for it from everybody, but …  there was no time to wait until the 11th hour to put a government together, so we got a head start and thankfully that made some difference.”

A delay in recognizing Biden as president-elect means Biden’s team cannot access funds, office space or agency operations crucial for a transition, according to the Associated Press.

The General Services Administration is the government agency responsible for greenlighting the official process, called “ascertainment,” of Biden’s transition as president-elect, but it has not yet made the decision.

Despite the hold-up, Biden’s campaign announced Tuesday that roughly 500 staffers would begin meeting with think tanks, business groups and non-governmental organizations.

“We’re already beginning the transition,” Biden said, calling Trump’s refusal to recognize him as president-elect an embarrassment. “We’re well underway. We’re going to go on in a consistent manner putting together our White House.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has joined a coalition of Republican-dominated state legal advisers in Trump’s attempt to challenge unofficial election results. 

Hunter’s amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court against Pennsylvania argues that state legislatures, not state courts, must decide when to stop receiving mail-in ballots and start counting them.

“Changing the rules of the election right before voting starts robs the state of being able to set its own election laws and causes confusion among voters,” Hunter said.

Allbaugh, who said he knows Biden and Trump personally, said he thinks that if the outcome from the courts is not to Trump’s satisfaction, the president will concede.

“I think at some point he’ll capitulate and understand, for the good of the country, to move on,” Allbaugh said. “Presidents are only as good as the people they surround themselves with. I have high hopes for our country if [Biden] is the newly elected president. Time will tell.”

Gaylord News is a Washington-based reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.