SAN DIEGO -- After days of bitter intramural squabbling over the Republican platform, GOP Chairman Haley Barbour yesterday sought to focus his fractured party on the formidable battle ahead to defeat President Clinton.
In a speech intended to set the tone for the party's national convention four days away, Barbour said he expected that the presidential campaign would be waged over issues important to Americans, such as lower taxes, crime and education.
With his party's presumptive nominee, Bob Dole, trailing badly in the polls, Barbour peppered his remarks with caustic asides portraying Clinton as an opportunist who will say anything to win re-election.
By contrast, Barbour cast Dole as a leader of plain-spoken sincerity and integrity. The American people, he said, "will see through Clinton and they will also see Bob Dole. Because Bob Dole's words match his record. His record and his rhetoric are just alike."
Barbour's efforts to unify the party's factions are being complicated by the candidate's Republican rival, Patrick J. Buchanan, who has yet to endorse Dole.
That was made clear yesterday, when a triumphant Angela "Bay" Buchanan, the candidate's sister and campaign manager, declared that the Republicans were now the party of Patrick Buchanan. She pointed out that many of Buchanan's positions -- especially his rigid opposition to abortion -- have been adopted as tenets of the party's platform.
"As you go from point to point throughout this document, Pat Buchanan's positions, ideas, ideals have really captured the heart and soul" of the Republican Party, she said. "Today, we have a Buchanan party."
She said the Buchanan camp, which had threatened to disrupt (( the convention if their anti-abortion position was not adequately reflected, would be "much more gracious" to the Republican leadership in the future. But she said Buchanan would withhold any endorsement of Dole until near the end of the convention, after he sees whom Dole selects as a running mate and the sorts of themes that emerge at the convention.
"We will not accept anything less than a pro-life running mate," she said.
For his part, Barbour played down the damage that might be caused by Buchanan's failure to bring his conservative loyalists on board the Dole campaign as it enters its critical convention week.
A Time/CNN poll released yesterday shows Dole trailing Clinton by 22 percentage points.
At a news conference after his speech, the party chairman said the Dole campaign's shortage of money for the general election accounted for the Republican's inability to erode Clinton's lead. But Barbour said that, with an infusion of cash in federal matching funds available once Dole's nomination becomes official next week, the candidate will be able to get his message out.
In his tone-setting pre-convention speech, Barbour asserted that Clinton had "jammed through" the largest tax increase in the country's history, one that "clobbered" small business. He called the administration's efforts to curb drug abuse "abysmal."
In response to Barbour's speech, Joe Lockhart, spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said that such rhetoric had gotten the Dole campaign nowhere.
Pub Date: 8/09/96