GOP conference for unity splits on social issues


WASHINGTON -- Two Republican world views collided loudly here yesterday, suggesting that the search for common ground on social issues such as abortion may be a long one for the Republican Party.

At a forum sponsored by a group of centrist Republicans, conservatives asserted that it was mythology to suggest that President George Bush lost the election last year because of his opposition to legalized abortion, or because of the perception that the Republican Party had moved too far to the right.

"I'm confident that 1992 will increasingly be viewed as an electoral aberration," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, who blamed the loss largely on a badly run campaign. "The future belongs to conservatism."

Centrist Republicans countered that the party paid the price of allowing its image to narrow.

"The Republican platform sent a message loud, clear, mean and intolerant across this country," said Rep. Constance A. Morella of Maryland. "If you don't speak a certain way, raise your kids a certain way, love a certain way and pray a certain way, you are most certainly not welcome here."

The exchanges came at a hearing held by the Republican Majority Coalition, a group formed after the November election with the aim of building "a broader and more inclusionary Republican Party."

Everyone, conservative and centrist, agreed yesterday that this was an appropriate goal, but the prescriptions on how to achieve it varied as much as the analyses of what happened last year.

Mr. Hyde, who was backed up by Patrick J. Buchanan, a former presidential candidate and commentator, who asserted that the way for the Republicans to rebuild was not by muting their conservative values but by highlighting them and adapting them to the issues of the 1990s.

Mr. Hyde urged Republicans to "stop being embarrassed by New York, Washington and Los Angeles taste-makers" and to return to the conservative Reagan Democrats who helped them win in the 1980s.

Mr. Buchanan asserted, "Traditional values is the last trump card the Republican Party possesses."

Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Hyde said that abandoning the strongly anti-abortion stance of the party's platform would result in electoral catastrophe.

The centrists, who failed to sway their party's leaders on the abortion issue last year, gave another round of warnings yesterday.

Former Sen. Warren B. Rudman of New Hampshire, one of the moderators of yesterday's meeting, said that for all the talk of the party as a big tent, "the perception of the party is quite different, and the perception of many of my friends is quite different."

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