Abortion as an issue is far more painful for Republicans than for Democrats. It goes directly to the heart of the philosophical divide within the conservative movement that seized control of the GOP in 1964 and has dominated American politics ever since. The split is between libertarians whose primary aim is to limit government interference in the great American game of making money and moralists eager to use government power to safeguard the rights of the unborn.
The right-wing tide initiated by Barry Goldwater 28 years ago was essentially libertarian, and it is no surprise to hear the 1964 GOP standard-bearer warn that if his party sticks to the strict anti-abortion plank advocated by President Bush the Republican National Convention in Houston next week "will go down in shambles and so will the election."
Actually, a similar plank did not defeat Mr. Bush four years ago. The real difference this time is the sad state of the economy, which may be one reason GOP party managers tend to dismiss Mr. Goldwater as an icon turned anachronism. But the more significant reason is that the libertarians lost out to the moralists sometime in the late 1970s, as witness Mr. Bush's switch on abortion when he joined the Reagan ticket. Libertarians got supply-side economics, to be sure, but the price was their party's advocacy of government diktat in the very personal business of having a child.