WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Dole amplified yesterday his proposal to change the Republican Party platform on abortion in a way that surprised his own advisers and infuriated the leading conservatives who only days ago had praised his effort to smooth over internal party fractures on the issue.
Dole said in a television interview that he would argue for the prominent display of a "declaration of tolerance" he proposed last week, in a move to appeal to elements of the party that support abortion rights without alienating anti-abortion groups. But, taking issue with conservatives, Dole said he would press for putting the language "right up there where people can see it."
Ralph Reed, the executive director of the Christian Coalition, had backed Dole's original compromise, but he warned in an interview that the senator's move could spur a rebellion at the party's national convention in August. He said Dole's statement yesterday was "substantively and stylistically different and is sure to encounter some opposition in San Diego.
"Everybody assumed that issue was settled on Friday," Reed continued, "and now this has reopened the discussion. And it could go in a lot of directions that are not helpful to either the party or Senator Dole."
Dole's tempered comments on abortion, as well as affirmative action, could be intended to address significant troubles he has had thus far in drawing support from women and minorities.
They may also reflect an attempt to smooth the way for him to choose a more moderate running mate as a way to recharge his presidential campaign. Only Saturday, Dole met with Colin Powell, who favors abortion rights and affirmative action, and who, according to the polls, would give a major lift to Dole's candidacy.
But Dole's remarks rekindled the furor over abortion just as he and his advisers were congratulating themselves for putting to rest perhaps the most contentious issue looming at the Republican National Convention.
In addition, the controversy comes on the eve of Dole's resignation from the Senate today.
The differences are over what may seem like a technicality but is of immense importance to factions in the Republican Party: specifically, where in the party's platform the tolerance language should appear.
Opponents of abortion said the passage would be viewed as less consequential if it were vaguely worded and placed in the platform's preamble, where it could be seen as applying to tolerance on a range of issues, not just abortion. Abortion-rights backers in the party, however, want the passage to appear directly in the plank that discusses abortion.
Yesterday, Dole said the language should appear in the plank. His comments surprised some aides, who as recently as yesterday had assured reporters that the senator wanted no changes in the actual plank.
"It has been resolved," Dole said in an interview on the CNN program "Inside Politics." "I made that decision. It is not negotiable. It's the decision, and that's going to be in the plank. And it is probably going to be in the abortion plank, not in the preamble. It seems to me that if you want to make it clear to the people that we are tolerant, this is a moral issue. It's not like all the other things in the platform, and it ought to be right up there where people can see it."
When Dole announced the "declaration of tolerance" Thursday, he was unclear as to its precise wording and placement in the platform.
The Dole campaign said it would offer no amplification of Dole's comments yesterday or any response to the criticism from conservatives.
Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, an influential conservative group, ridiculed Dole's comments as "politically dumb," after Dole had seemed to be handling the issue well. "He had a winner -- up until today," Bauer said. "If this keeps up, the so-called Big Tent won't have any pro-lifers in it."
"We thought we had this thing put to bed," said William W. Pascoe III, political director of the American Conservative Union. "He has just garbled the message again."
The outcry from conservatives came only hours after Dole highlighted his efforts to unite Republicans over abortion in comments to the House Republican Conference. "If I've been able to do anything in my lifetime in the Republican Party, it's bring people together," he said. "And we need to spend our time talking about issues we agree on -- about 90 percent -- and I hope I made a big step forward last week in reaching out to everybody on the abortion issue."
People close to Dole said the senator was expected to call for other controversial planks to contain similar language about tolerance.
Ann Stone, national chairwoman of Republicans for Choice, praised Dole's comments, saying: "He is ready to acknowledge to pro-choice Republicans that he really does want them back in the party."
But Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said: "It's an attempt to position himself as tolerant, but what he is saying is that he is tolerant of pro-choice Republicans; he is not tolerant on abortion."
Pub Date: 6/11/96