Now it's President-elect Bush. What next?

The 2000 election has finally come to an end. Now comes the hard part for George W. Bush--figuring out how to govern.

Now George W. Bush has to start thinking about the hard stuff.

With the election finally decided, Bush's first responsibility is to assemble an administration. He has indicated for weeks that he'll quickly announce some key appointments.

But looming beyond his Cabinet work is the more difficult task of actually governing. Bush faces an extraordinary challenge in that regard: He will be the first President since Benjamin Harrison in 1889 to enter the White House having lost the popular vote and the political authority that it commands. His party's control in Congress is also tenuous. The Senate is split 50-50; in the House, Republicans hold 221 seats to the Democrats' 212. On top of these hard facts, many Democrats will undoubtedly harbor some resentment over the resolution of the disputed vote count in Florida, especially given the threats from the GOP-led legislature to get into the act.

"If Bush becomes President, he will be seen as an accidental President who only won the electoral vote because people got confused about a butterfly ballot and chad buildup," scoffed one Democratic strategist with ties to the party's congressional leadership.

None of this is lost on Bush. "He understands that it's been a difficult time, that there will be some healing required and some reaching out required," said Mark McKinnon, a Bush media adviser. "That's the sort of thing that Governor Bush does naturally anyway."

Even if this kind of task comes easy to Bush, he would have to get cooperation from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill to keep his presidency from sliding into the ditch of partisan deadlock that has defined Washington for the past three years.

The first hurdle that Bush would need to overcome is within his own party: Would congressional conservatives give him enough leeway to shape a legislative agenda that can attract Democratic support?

"In the first year, he'll have all [the leeway] he wants," predicted Republican strategist Donald L. Fierce, president of the Washington lobbying firm Fierce and Isakowitz.

The record of partisan warfare on Capitol Hill over the past three years makes Fierce's assessment sound almost Pollyannaish, but Bush's election is the first real victory the party has had in a while, following a string of defeats that included Bob Dole's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1996, the loss of Republican seats in Congress in the 1998 midterm elections, the resignation of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and the failed attempt to remove Bill Clinton from office in early 1999 after impeaching him.

Those setbacks, say Fierce and other Republicans, should chasten GOP conservatives who might otherwise be inclined to push Bush toward adopting a hard-line approach in dealing with congressional Democrats. Moreover, the party was unified during the 2000 campaign and stood strongly behind Bush while he fought the post-election legal and public relations battles in Florida.

"We've got to give the new President room to maneuver, and the Republicans [in Congress] are not going to take kindly to somebody trying to cut him off," said Fierce. "They know we're not going to get 80 to 90 percent of what we want. If we can get 65 to 70, that's good."

Republicans also have to face the reality of the election results--politically, Washington and the rest of the country are very evenly divided. This split not only dictates that the GOP must work with Democrats, it also means that Republicans would probably be prudent to scale back their own legislative wish list. Both of those tactics, bipartisanship and a limited agenda, play to Bush's experience of working with a Democratic-controlled Legislature in Austin, Texas.

Having a Republican in the White House naturally imposes some discipline on GOP members in Congress. Some conservatives will be relieved not to have to deal with an adversary such as Clinton, who at times has driven them to distraction and reckless overreaching. "With the numbers so even, it doesn't mean it will be any less partisan on Capitol Hill," said former Senate GOP leadership aide Kyle McSlarrow, vice president for political and governmental affairs at, an Internet company that specializes in developing software for advocacy campaigns. "But the general effect of not having to worry about someone with the bully pulpit distorting our agenda may make things less bitter and divisive."

Still, some habits die hard. While Republican congressional leaders and the White House tried to wrap up the unresolved fiscal 2001 appropriations bills last week, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, roiled the waters on Dec. 6, when he fumed that if President Clinton "wants to shut down the government, that's his problem, not ours." DeLay, a leader of the House conservatives, has invited Democratic cooperation next year, but made clear that it should be on GOP terms.

Citing the GOP's hold-however narrow-on both chambers and the White House, DeLay said: "The things we have been dreaming about, we can now finally do."

DeLay's strength inside the House Republican Conference is unknown, but the message of his recent comments was unmistakable--that he intends to be the protector of the conservative agenda on Capitol Hill. His posturing could force the hand of Speaker Dennis Hastert, who would have to choose between Bush's desire for cooperation and DeLay's confrontational tactics. If Hastert embraces a bipartisan approach, and his Republican colleagues go along, Bush's prospects of reaching out to Democrats improve. If DeLay prevails with his colleagues, with or without Hastert, Bush's ability to reach out to Democrats would be severely constricted.

Most Democrats believe that Bush can be successful only if he pursues a genuinely bipartisan course. "With a little creativity, this could be a very interesting moment," said Patrick J. Griffin, a partner in the Washington lobbying firm of Griffin, Johnson, Dover & Stewart, who was President Clinton's chief of legislative affairs during 1995-96.

Griffin said that Bush would be well advised to study Clinton's first term in office. "In our first two years, Clinton passed almost everything, but the fact that they were virtually partisan successes meant that in 1994, [GOP Senate Minority Leader] Dole was able to say these were not successes, they were Democratic excesses," said Griffin, recalling the disastrous outcome of the midterm elections that year for the Democrats.

If Bush seeks some middle ground with congressional Democrats, as Clinton did with Republicans in 1996, he might be able to chalk up some victories. "His agenda doesn't have to be minimalist, it just has to be moderate," said Griffin.

The wrong course, Griffin said, would be to pursue a legislative strategy that is keyed to passing legislation with nearly unanimous Republican support in the House and help from a dozen or two conservative Democrats. In that case, Democratic leaders in the House, backed by solid support from their caucus, would be able to assert that Bush wasn't pursuing a truly bipartisan course. And once these bills hit the Senate, they would not be well positioned for success, and could die at the hands of a Democratic filibuster.

"You need Democrats on the uptake as co-sponsors of bills and on their PR efforts," said one veteran Democratic congressional strategist who requested anonymity. "Bush has to reach out in significant ways, not cosmetic ways, and not just to the people who are inclined to be with you, or who, politically, can't afford not to be with you."

Some Democrats believe that Bush would have to make substantial compromises on legislation, compromises that would be anathema to conservatives, in order to attract much bipartisan support. "He doesn't have the political leverage to force Democrats to lower the public policy bar," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

Democrats in Congress, however, will now also have to operate without an ally in the White House. Presidential leadership and the threat of a veto have helped Democrats to maintain their own internal discipline in Congress in the past few years, but they will face new pressures.

"Democrats can't just count on their opposition to be effective," said former Rep. Vic Fazio, a California Democrat who is now a partner in the Washington office of public affairs firm Clark & Weinstock. "They will have to decide on which issues they have to compromise on, and which ones to draw lines on--where it is easier to go along substantively, and where they will benefit the most from fighting back."

Although some Democrats are likely to see Bush as an illegitimate President, the public will probably be more tolerant. "I think for sure we will have some kind of honeymoon," said pollster Andy Kohut, director of the Pew Center for the People and the Press. "There is a lot more give in public opinion than you would expect. Large percentages have said they would accept either candidate as the winner."

Ironically, even the unusual conclusion to the election could work to Bush's advantage. Expectations for significant accomplishments have been muted, but the last thing voters will tolerate is the kind of wrangling that has characterized the electoral endgame.

"Having gone through the month we've just gone through, while there probably is a little more burden on the President to reach out, because he's President, there is a real burden on everyone to work together," said Republican pollster Robert M. Teeter, a longtime political adviser to the Bush family. "The penalty for not working together is going to be huge, and whoever gets tagged as being the first guy for blowing things up is going to suffer for it."

That may not be the mandate to govern that Bush had hoped to get on Nov. 7, but at least it's a start.