HAS THE REPUBLICAN Party been taken over by religious zealots who are intolerant even of tolerance? Former Sen. Robert Dole had good reason to fear as much after the Christian Coalition majority on the GOP Platform Committee brushed aside his call for a "declaration of tolerance" on abortion and even exorcised the dreaded T-word from its draft document.
What the Dole presidential campaign hopes to salvage from this defeat is a Republican National Convention in San Diego next week devoid of the kind of Pat Buchanan "cultural wars" oratory that marred the Houston convention four years ago and contributed to George Bush's defeat.
Pro-choice elements in the party may try to amend the draft platform in floor debate. But their effort is doomed and the most noise as the convention opens will come from social conservatives elated by their platform victory.
As matters now stand, the only crumb being tossed at Republican moderates is the selection of Rep. Susan Molinari as keynote speaker. The proposed platform tilts way to starboard not only on abortion but on immigration, affirmative action and other issues. Speculation that Mr. Dole might select a centrist running mate has all but disappeared. The convention is dominated by those who would rather be "right" than capture the White House.
While the Maryland delegation is one of the few still dominated by moderates, conservative followers of the 1994 gubernatorial candidate, Ellen Sauerbrey, are gunning for the 1998 primaries and a takeover of the state's GOP central committee and chairmanship.
The language proposed by GOP platform writers merely states that "members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing views." Rejected was Mr. Dole's proposal to add these words: "on issues of personal conscience like abortion and capital punishment." Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed and his cohorts were determined to delink abortion from any acknowledgment of diversity of opinion in the party, this on the grounds that the sanctity of life for the unborn is absolute.
While Mr. Dole has long opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother, he tried to apply the pragmatism born of his 35-year legislative career to this question by accepting diversity on questions like abortion and capital punishment. "It's not negotiable," he said a month ago. "It's the decision." In fact, it was not the decision -- raising the question one week before the convention of whether Mr. Dole is in control of his party.
Pub Date: 8/07/96