The evening of the 2004 presidential vote had been late and frustrating. The networks, burned by their monumental confusion on election night 2000, had refused to declare a winner in Ohio, even though the result was clear. In the Oval Office the next morning, President Bush sat with Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Dan Bartlett and me, talking distractedly on random topics. Then his assistant Ashley called in, “Senator Kerry on the line.” There was a cordial, five-minute conversation. When the president got off the phone, his eyes filled with tears—tears of relief that another election crisis had been avoided—and he hugged each of us in turn.
The Republican Party, at that moment, was on a roll. Between 2000 and 2004, the president increased his total vote by 23 percent. Republicans in the House held their highest majority since 1946. It was the first time Republicans had controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress in back-to-back elections since the 1920s. One respected conservative commentator said that Republican hegemony in America was “expected to last for years, maybe decades.”