WHAT MUST be infuriating to the latest targets of Alfonse D'Amato, otherwise known as "Senator Potshot," is that he is politically on target. Of fellow Republicans like Pat Buchanan, who are staunchly anti-abortion, Mr. D'Amato asks why such "philosophical ayatollahs" think they can dictate to the GOP. Of House conservatives, particularly Speaker Newt Gingrich, he said their "harsh rhetoric" created an impression Republicans are a "party without compassion."
If Senator D'Amato were merely being himself, which gives him sole possession of one of the meanest mouths in politics, he perhaps could be passed over with some of the condescension Speaker Gingrich mustered for the occasion: "I don't know why he is wandering around saying these things." But the junior senator from New York is junior to no one in the Dole campaign except the candidate himself.
He heads the Dole National Steering Committee and, as an early supporter of the Kansas senator, locked up the New York delegation. Working from his Long Island base, he is regarded as a one-man Tammany Hall who engineered the election of New York Gov. George Pataki. And as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, he is nicely positioned to shake the Wall Street money tree.
So why is Mr. D'Amato deliberately picking a fight with pro-lifers and Gingrich revolutionaries who represent impressive constituencies within the Republican Party? One sophisticated view is that Senator Dole would prefer to have the divisive abortion issue thrashed out now, rather than at the national convention. A more cynical view holds that Senator D'Amato has come up dry on his Whitewater hearings and is seeking a distraction.
Whatever the explanation, Republicans are attacking Republicans these days with an intensity that comes more naturally to Democrats. It could be a temporary thing, one that will be replaced by harmony if the Dole campaign ever gets out of the doldrums. But especially on the abortion issue, the GOP seems entangled in a moral question as profound as that which split the Democratic Party between the Jim Crow South and civil rights northern liberals for a century after the Civil War. While, in retrospect, it can be seen than Jim Crow racism was destined to go, there is no easy way to reconcile adamantly held positions on abortion. The GOP seems fated to be the battleground.
Pub Date: 5/08/96