Republicans may face an historic unraveling of their Party this year, due to the pushes and pulls of its increasingly fractious factions. Moderates are pulling for the GOP to return to its earlier pro-choice position on abortion. The Christian Right is pushing hard to retain the anti-abortion plank in the Party platform, and wants the Party to adopt its whole agenda.
A bitter fight over the abortion plank now looms over the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in July. While the anti-abortion president, George Bush, is attempting to keep the number of pro-choice delegates at the convention to one-third, many frustrated pro-choice Republicans are considering bolting from the Party — possibly forever. Both Democrat Bill Clinton and Independent Ross Perot are pro-choice. With Bush, Clinton, and Perot each getting about a third of the pollsters' pie charts these days, the Christian Right seems vital to Bush's re-election chances.
A revealing glimpse into the Bush/Christian Right relationship surfaced recently in the form of a letter dated April 3, 1992, to Bush campaign advisor Charles Black. In it, Christian Coalition honcho, Ralph Reed, presents his boss Pat Robertson's recommendations for the California delegation to the Republican National Convention.
Now, regardless of who wins the California presidential primary on June 2, the state's Republican governor gets to appoint most of the 260 delegates. With that in mind, Reed submitted 53 names for Black's use in negotiating "the composition of the California delegation with Governor Pete Wilson." Reed and Robertson felt the inclusion of these 53 names was "vital to getting our supporters strongly behind the President in the fall."
While Reed listed prominent conservative politicians, he also listed leaders of the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and Eagle Forum. Many on the list have bitterly attacked Governor Wilson — and often the president — in their drive to take over the Republican Party and remake it in their own image. Thus, Bush's predicament enhances their strategy for gaining party influence. Since party rules and political conditions vary from state to state, the Christian Coalition recognizes that most of their people can't become convention delegates by Bush bashing. Bush, in turn, needs them.
Meanwhile, just as there is no middle ground on abortion, there is no middle ground on gay rights. Angry Christian Rightists demanded and got a meeting with the President on April 21, after learning that his campaign chief had met with gay activists in February. Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, among others, demanded that Bush "disavow any support or sympathy for the homosexual civil rights agenda." Richard Land, a Baptist spokesperson, said that they wanted a signal that Bush did not support gay rights. According to Land, Bush "gave us that."
Other members of the delegation included: Bob Dugan, of the National Association of Evangelicals; David Clark, of the National Religious Broadcasters; Gary Bauer, of James Dobson's Family Research Council; Beverly LaHaye, of Concerned Women for America; and Lou Sheldon, of the Traditional Values Coalition.
Republicans who believe in abortion rights for women and civil rights for gays and lesbians, are being squeezed out of the Party. Whether Bush can make up the lost votes from the ranks of the theocrats remains to be seen.