The GOP Platform: Divider or Uniter?

Republican moderates and conservatives vie over the Party platform.


At their convention in Boston last month, the Democrats made a big show of their unity in the cause to oust George Bush. Tensions and divisions that usually hobble the Party were
kept at bay, and the Dems maintained an almost GOP-like “message” discipline. It’s ironic, then, that going into their own convention, Republicans are showing signs of disunity over the party’s platform, with moderates and conservatives at odds over some key issues.

The 110 members of the Republican platform committee spent Wednesday and Thursday reviewing and amending the first draft of the document (to be presented to the convention on Monday). And conservative factions spent much of Wednesday torpedoing compromises on divisive social issues like gay rights and abortion.

A number of moderate groups within the party tried pushing for a “unity plank” in the platform that would cast the GOP as a big tent tolerant of dissenting views. Such a plank would hardly be revolutionary. The Democratic platform took that approach on Iraq by stating, “People of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq.” And the GOP included a unity plank in its 2000 platform:

“We are the party of the open door, determined to strengthen the social, cultural, and political ties that bind us together and make our country the greatest force for good in the world. Steadfast in our commitment to our ideals, we recognize that members of our party can have deeply held and sometimes differing views. This diversity is a source of strength, not a sign of weakness, and so we welcome into our ranks all who may hold differing positions. We commit to resolve our differences with civility, trust, and mutual respect.”

This time around, groups like the Log Cabin Republicans, Republicans for Choice, the Republican Youth Majority, and the Republican Main Street Partnership tried the “unity plank” approach. But they were turned down Wednesday, a move Log Cabin director Partick Guerriero criticized in an interview with The Advocate:

“Today’s decision – refusing to unite our party and refusing to recognize that people of good faith can disagree over contentious social issues–sends the wrong message to fair-minded voters. What is the message that today’s platform language sends to Republicans like Vice President Cheney, Governor Schwarzenegger, Mayor Giuliani, and Senator McCain? How can you have a platform that fails to recognize that people of good faith, like Vice President Cheney, can disagree over complex social issues. The far right’s agenda is dividing our families, our party, our nation, and even our president and vice president.”

Moderates aren’t the only ones unhappy with the platform. As the Washington Times reports, some conservatives bristled at the inclusion of President Bush’s approval of (extremely) limited stem-cell research, and the president’s “guest worker” plan that includes illegal immigrants. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado called the position “Clintonlike doublespeak in a Republican platform,” and longtime conservative activist Gary Bauer subtly threatened that the immigrant plan might keep the far right home come November:

“It’s a fairly solid document. But I’m concerned overall that simmering discontent on issues like immigration and the vice president’s confusing remarks on same-sex marriage will cause us to be surprised on Election Day about where our voters went.”

Ultimately, the platform isn’t binding, and George Bush wouldn’t be the first president to break from it. But it again brought out the split the party leadership wanted to avoid. As Bob Novak reports, the White House tried to make the process as top-down as could reasonably be expected, limiting the opportunities for infighting:

“The Bush White House completely abandoned the old platform process. While Democrats went through a seemingly democratic procedure to create a sham platform skirting contentious issues, Republicans have a real platform that was handed down like the Ten Commandments. The subcommittee chairmen got their first glimpse of it last weekend, but it was kept from the other 100-odd committee members until after their opening reception Tuesday night.

“Since that reception always was held Sunday night one week before the convention, the delay cut in half the time normally devoted to platform consideration. Even the committee’s membership was kept secret. The opening reception, normally at a hotel, was unannounced and held at the Javits Center under police guard.”

The Republicans already had to mend fences over the list of convention speakers, adding a number of right-wingers to the roster after conservatives complained about the prominent roles of moderates like Schwarzenegger, McCain and Michael Bloomberg. And they did it again on the platform front Wednesday, adding language in support of a constitutional amendment against gay marriage (the 2000 platform merely stressed support for the “traditional definition of marriage”). But with conservatives and moderates threatening to stay home if they don’t get their way, Republicans will have an uphill struggle to energize the entire base.