SAN DIEGO -- Seeking to head off a messy floor fight at their convention next week, Republicans struck a face-saving deal yesterday that preserves the party's strict anti-abortion plank but provides for the printing of dissenting views in an attachment to their platform.
The agreement came only after an 11th-hour attempt by Bob Dole to appease abortion-rights supporters in hopes of averting a public airing of the party's differences on the issue.
Dole, the presumptive presidential nominee, made a secret telephone call Tuesday evening to try to persuade Illinois Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the chairman of the Republican platform committee, to add some softening language to the document's controversial plank on abortion.
But the call produced only an agreement -- not requiring committee action -- to print in an appendix the text of proposed amendments that had been defeated by the committee over the past three days.
Abortion-rights leaders within the party pronounced themselves satisfied with the agreement. "What we requested has been granted," said California Gov. Pete Wilson, who said he was speaking for himself, Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld and Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe.
"I wish to thank Senator Dole for making good on a consistently held view on his part that this should be an inclusive party," Wilson said.
The final agreement was accepted by the leading representatives of the anti-abortion forces, including Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council and Angela "Bay" Buchanan, sister of and campaign manager for Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative television commentator who still considers himself an active candidate for the nomination.
Bauer said that the abortion opponents, having carried the day, didn't want to rub the losers' noses in their defeat by resisting the gesture in the appendix.
Dole called Hyde at the urging of Wilson, a leader of the party faction supporting abortion rights and threatening a floor fight over the issue.
But authoritative sources in the Dole campaign said the call was made late Tuesday only after the committee already had decided by overwhelming votes to retain rigid language opposing abortion and to reject any expression of tolerance toward those who support abortion rights.
Sources said Hyde reacted hotly, telling convention manager Paul Manafort that the platform question had been resolved and that any attempt to open it up would set off a storm of protest among the delegates and would be doomed to failure.
With the request still hanging, Hyde adjourned the committee Tuesday night at Manafort's behest and angrily left the San Diego Concourse meeting hall. When a reporter who encountered him in a hotel restaurant an hour later asked if everything having to do with the platform had been settled, Hyde shot back: "Nothing is settled. It's all still on the table."
Dole aides alarmed
Meanwhile, the Dole managers were alarmed that word would leak out that Dole, after having acceded to the platform language approved Tuesday, was now having second thoughts and trying to go back on the agreement.
The upshot was a series of conversations between Dole strategist Manafort and the Illinois congressman, concluded yesterday morning, that produced a "compromise" that wasn't really a compromise at all -- an agreement to throw a bone to the abortion-rights advocates in an appendix to the platform committee report.
That gesture will be the inclusion, under the heading "Minority Views," of the proposed amendments to the document that had been defeated by the committee. The appendix will cover other topics, not just abortion, but abortion-rights supporters such as Wilson will be able to claim that their views were included in the document, if only in an appendix.
The appendix will be one of two; the other being the text of formal speeches delivered to the committee by Dole, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other party officials.
Dole called Hyde after being urged by Wilson to do so and after the candidate had seen on television the heated reactions to the platform from other prominent Republicans who support abortion rights, including Weld, Snowe and Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey.
But Dole's request was compromised by the fact that he never was able to muster the votes for his original proposal that would have put the party on record as being tolerant of other Republicans who disagreed with the plank. Dole had abandoned that effort over the weekend when it was clear he lacked the votes.
The thinking in the Dole campaign then was that it was better for him to "take the hit" for caving in on the issue, in the hope of putting it behind him, so the convention could focus on his economic and tax proposals. If Hyde had acceded to Dole's request to soften the platform's anti-abortion language, the whole controversy would have taken on new life.
Dole and his strategists were trying to placate the dissenters to avoid a floor fight next week. But there was considerable doubt that the abortion-rights advocates could muster the support needed to bring the issue to the floor -- the majority of six state delegations.
The final platform produced by the 107-member committee retains the language of the last four Republican platforms calling for a constitutional amendment to forbid abortions.
Without specifying the abortion issue, the document also includes a sentence describing the diversity of views within the party as a source of "strength" for Republicans -- a much vaguer qualifier than Dole had been urging in the weeks running up to the convention.
Wilson's threat of a floor fight was being viewed by Dole's strategists as an attempt to lay the groundwork for another campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. But Wilson made a similar threat in 1992, then backed off.
Pub Date: 8/08/96