By Terence Samuel
August 2, 2000
PHILADELPHIAThere are elements of fuzziness embedded in George W. Bush's pitch that he is a different kind of Republican, but there is no question that he's managing to put on a different kind of Republican National Convention. It's what Bush wants and it's what he's getting.
Take Gary Bauer, whose failed campaign for the GOP nomination was a singular crusade against abortion in any form. He does not think there is any reason to have a fight over abortion at the convention. Take Ann Stone, head of Republicans for Choice. She thinks the Bauer forces are losing influence and that hers are gaining strength. Which is not to say the contentious debate has ended. Having animated and divided the party for a generation, the sharp quills of the abortion fight have never been far beneath the smooth surface of Bush's compassionate conservatism. The pro-life camp is displaying one of the most popular T-shirts of the convention, proclaiming: "The Life of the Party."
Though the governor is strongly pro-life, there was a distrust among some in the antiabortion camp, who don't share his approach to the battle. It is why Bush was Bauer's third choice to be the party's standard-bearer this fall. First he ran himself and then supported McCain over Bush. But even as a late convert, Bauer is full of praise for Bush, particularly in comparison with Bob Dole's effort to alter the platform in 1996: "I think Bush was a lot smarter about it than Dole was," he says.
By Monday night, after the platform committee had done its work, the abortion issue had been so tamed and caged, that Bauer was able to declare, "There was no reason to fight over it."
This is, of course, the most unpredictable kind of peace, secured at the price of a bitten-tongue moment of silence. People have not changed their positions, only their tone and the volume.
"It's an uneasy truce for now," says Stone, whose troops feel validated by a platform process that allowed them more access and a greater voice than ever before. And they take comfort in the fact that for 10 minutes during the deliberations, pro-choice forces were able to insert less strident language into the platform. Eventually, of course, it came out, but Stone sees those 10 minutes as a triumph. "We think the momentum is on our side," she says, "It shows that their power is diminishing."
Maybe, maybe not. It may be that Bush was determined to show that he could manage this issue as well as he has managed the rest of his campaign so far. "We worked hard to massage both sides," says one senior Bush aide. The campaign promised the pro-lifers that there would be no changes to the platform, and the only trick was how to manage the process to that end. Pro-choice proponents were allowed their say, though that was all they were allowed. It was more that they ever got before. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who headed the platform effort, took heat from the antiabortion delegates who opposed any changes on abortion. And it is clear that some of the pro-choice folks enjoyed having so antagonized the pro-lifers. For the moment the win goes to those who want abortion outlawed with a constitutional prohibition and who endorse the appointment of Supreme Court justices willing to overturn Roe v. Wade. That's what the platform says. The triumph, however, belongs to Bush, who has managed to wrestle the abortion controversy to the floor, keeping both sides quiet for now. And no matter how fragile the truce, the net effect is to render George W. Bush as more moderate on the issue. Never mind that nothing has changed. "I don't know why they keep saying that is a moderate platform," Bauer says. "We got exactly the pro-life plank that we wanted."
"We are going to tell our people to vote their consciences [in November]," says Stone, "I don't know what I'm going to do yet, and if I decide to support Bush I don't know how public I will be about it."
Click here for an archive of Reporters' Notebooks from the GOP convention.