HOUSTON -- If there are two adjectives to describe the Republican Party as its national convention opens here, they are pessimistic and defensive.
This was nowhere clearer than in the rhetoric of President Bush and his putative allies on the eve of the first session. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, for example, showed up on NBC to shoot down the idea that the president can solve his problem by proposing a tax cut in his acceptance speech. Mr. Bush, he conceded, "does need to make some dramatic statements" to get his campaign on track, but "a tax cut by itself . . . would be bad medicine" and, anyway, couldn't be enacted until next year.
Mr. Dole was equally bearish on the abortion issue. Asked whether he would press for a constitutional amendment to forbid abortion, he replied: "It wouldn't be a priority, no."
Asked what his constituents think about the president now, Mr. Dole was restrained. "They don't dislike George Bush," he said. "They're just uneasy with George Bush."
Republican National Committee Chairman Richard N. Bond, trying to find some ray of light, was telling a story about his flight to Houston. A couple seated nearby was sharply criticizing Mr. Bush when the man said, " 'Yeah, but this Clinton is so slick. He gives used car salesmen a good name." Whereupon the woman replied: "If Bush gives me anything remotely positive, I'm going to vote for him."
In other words, Mr. Bond was saying, the best thing this incumbent has going for him are the flaws of his opponent. What a testimonial.