REPUBLICAN PARTY: GOPers Elect Staunch Abortion Opponent
In what the Washington Post calls a "major victory for the religious right and the conservative activists who have dominated the GOP in recent decades," the state Republican Party yesterday elected two conservatives to fill its top state leadership slots. The approximately 1,000 delegates in attendance overwhelmingly selected John McGraw -- who has said he would "withhold party money from Republican nominees who do not oppose ... 'partial-birth abortion,'" and that "killing babies is the issue of the century" -- as their chair (Edsall, Washington Post, 3/1). "We've chased the women away from our party," said Nicholas Bavaro, whose opposition to McGraw generated a rare challenge in the race for state chair. But McGraw stressed he will focus on electing Republican candidates, "not leading an anti-abortion crusade." He said last week, "I'm actually a pretty reasonable guy. I have my views. It doesn't mean I'm intolerant. I haven't been arrested for marching on an abortion clinic. I haven't killed any abortion doctors" (Chance, Sacramento Bee, 2/26). After the election Sunday, he said, "All of you know that I have very strong convictions. That does not mean and will not mean in this party any intolerance. I want this party to be the party of honest and open debate" (Borenstein, Contra Costa Times, 3/1).
2000 Horse Show
Convention-goers also listened to several speeches by GOP presidential hopefuls, which only served to underscore the party's internal differences over abortion. Some candidates, while not ignoring their pro-life credentials, urged the party to focus on more centrist issues. Former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said, "My message is going to be to ... stop fighting about abortion and start focusing on education" (Decker, Los Angeles Times, 2/26). Sen. John McCain echoed Alexander, saying, "I am pro-life, but I would also very much like to seek a plank in our platform ... where we emphasized that there is plenty of room in our party for both pro-life and pro-choice Republicans and we welcome all of them." Other candidates, however, "were not reluctant to make the case that the GOP must retain its antiabortion plank and not compromise on the issue." Publisher Steve Forbes said, "The first order of compassion is protecting the unborn." Talk radio host Alan Keyes added, "If you back away from the pro-life plank of the party, if you back away from a party committed to the moral idea ... there will be no ground for unity in this party." Former Family Research Council head Gary Bauer went even further, saying the party "should not give one dollar to any candidate" who does not support a ban on "partial-birth" abortion (Edsall, Washington Post, 2/28). Former Vice President Dan Quayle agreed, noting that 85% of Americans support a ban on the procedure. He said, "Let's start with that. There should be consensus on that issue, and it should not be a divisive issue in the Republican party. Let's get on with it. It's an important issue" (Moeser, Arizona Republic, 2/28). Conspicuously absent from Sacramento were early front-runners Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole, which provoked "speculation that they were determined to avoid being sullied by another Republican skirmish over abortion" (Washington Post, 2/28).
Right Wing Cornerstone
Two major newspapers this weekend touched on the same issues, discussing the GOP's identity crisis on the national level. In The New York Times Magazine, James Traub looks at the role of new House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), noting that "[t]he Republicans in Congress, by and large, remain spellbound by the GOP's right-wing base. This is the true end of Reaganism, the real legacy of Newt Gingrich -- and Speaker Dennis Hastert's everyday nightmare" (Traub, New York Times Magazine, 2/28). A front-page article in yesterday's Washington Post examines deeper the dynamics surrounding the letter recently written by conservative activist Paul Weyrich to colleagues. Though the Christian right has helped mobilize millions of voters for the GOP, Weyrich asserted that the "day when Christian conservatives are willing to do all the work, but stay in the back of the bus, is frankly over with," and his letter may be the latest indication that some high-profile conservatives feel it is time to abandon the Republican party (Von Drehle, Washington Post, 2/28).