Rich Bond, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said at the party's platform committee meeting last week that while he, himself, agrees with the party's "strongly pro-life" position in the abortion debate, "on this issue I want to make one thing clear. There is no litmus test on this or any other issue in the Republican Party. We are a party of diversity, of openness."
But the GOP has not yet become what the late Lee Atwater envisioned as a "big tent" with room for a gradation of views on important issues such as abortion. In fact, the party shows no signs of becoming so accommodating.
The 1992 Republican platform seems certain to repeat the pledge made by the GOP four years ago -- a demand for a "human life amendment" to the Constitution guaranteeing "the unborn" constitutional rights. The party leadership is committed to blocking even a minority committee report or floor debate at the convention.
Yet a significant number of Republican women want change. Two recent Gallup Polls (June 1991 and January 1992) show that 25 percent of Republican women believe abortion should be legal "under any circumstances" and fully 58 percent believe it should be legal "under certain circumstances."
Why would the party's leaders side with the 17 percent who favor the 1988 platform language? On the surface it makes no political sense. Especially since those voters have nowhere else to go, whereas some pro-choice Republicans might be comfortable supporting either Democrat Bill Clinton or independent Ross Perot. Both of them have said that while they personally oppose abortions, they would not support banning them.
The Bush campaign may have decided there will be a true three-way race for the presidency this year, and that in such an environment the best politics is to stick with your most fervent ideologues. Energize them by going all the way for their concepts. That means not only the anti-abortion activists. It also means the other usual suspects in the right wing of the Republican Party -- the opponents of sensible gun control laws, for example. Put together such zealots and non-ideological party loyalists and hope for 35 percent of the vote.
That is disturbing. A two-party system, even when it is as stressed as it is this year by an independent presidential candidate, draws its strength from having parties composed of individuals with a variety of views on major issues. The less responsive and fair a party is to all its components, the less successful it can be when it is given the responsibility of governing. One reason for the gridlock in Washington today is bTC that the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, having refused to work out compromises among its partisans, was never able to work out constructive compromises with Democrats in Congress.