Girding up for '00 Dole's convention: Who's to lead next time if he loses to Bill Clinton?

Campaign 1996

August 19, 1996

IN SAN DIEGO, the story line is "Beat Bill Clinton," but the subplot is who wins the Republican nomination in 2000 if Bob Dole loses in November? Personalities always abound in such speculation, but at issue is the soul and control of the Grand Old Party.

Three faces of Republicanism were presented when the party's radical right dominated platform hearings, moderates chafed and Mr. Dole's pragmatic handlers took charge during the convention itself. Hardly a word was heard about abortion from PTC the Christian Coalition or its pro-choice opponents. Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" did not exist. Instead, efforts were made to present the party as more caring, inclusive, diverse, female and tolerant than the delegates actually in attendance.

The party's conservative activists -- the people who ring door bells, volunteer for phone banks, whip up registration drives, push their conservative ideology -- may account for only a third of all registered Republicans. But because of their fervency, they are the ones who gain control of state central committees, win primaries and have every intention of bulldozing their way to center-stage when the Republican convention next assembles as the Class of '00.

Theirs, however, is not a cause heading toward inevitable triumph. With Pat Buchanan trumpeting "culture wars" and Marilyn Quayle snarling at working women, the religious right made such a shambles of the 1992 GOP convention in Houston that it was virtually silenced in San Diego. Mr. Buchanan, banished to an outdoor rally, proclaimed that his ideas "now reflect the grass roots of the party."

But party moderates, finally gingered up, were having none of it. Armed with polls showing the majority of Americans (and Republicans) favor abortion rights, they too shouted from the fringes but found their message muted by the Dole convention high command. The national TV audience was treated to four nights of obeisance to Ronald Reagan's dictum that Republicans shall not speak ill of other Republicans (at least on the podium). Every word was tailored or censored to promote a Dole victory in November.

Some would-be nominees in 2000, though professing fealty to the Dole candidacy, worked the state delegations, schmoozed with deep-pockets contributors and tried to influence the party in their direction. Others tried to be more subtle. But the way Bob Dole put down the Christian Right and its outspoken opponents, and the way both sides accepted this treatment while awaiting another day, was a reminder that the struggle for the GOP goes on.

Pub Date: 8/19/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.