“Right Wing Sees Betrayals,” the headline in the Washington Timesshouted last week, and it’s about time the right wing did. This particular headline referred to what had been going on inside the Republican Convention’s platform committee, where conservatives were given the run-around by the party establishment on several issues dear to them.
One such issue is the social-moral issue, specifically abortion and “same-sex marriage.” Probably no other cause fetches in the conservative herds like the GOP’s traditional platform plank denouncing abortion (leave aside the curious fact that apart from occasional rhetoric, no Republican president has ever done boo about abortion as a practical matter).
The platform this year keeps the plank and thumps for a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual marriages. And why not? Since neither position will have any practical impact and each seems to make conservatives happy, the party establishment has no reason to dump them. The “gay marriage” amendment in fact has already been defeated in Congress, as I predicted some months ago it would be.
But many conservatives seemed upset about Vice President Cheney’s recent backing away from the amendment, so their pleasure at receiving the rhetorical stroking in the platform they have come to expect is somewhat diminished. Social-religious conservative Gary Bauer of American Values says the platform is a “fairly solid document” but worries that “simmering discontent” on these social issues “will cause us to be surprised on Election Day about where our voters went.”
As the Times reports, the platform endorses President Bush’s foolish “guest worker plan” of last January and at the same time renounces amnesty for illegal aliens. But of course the president’s plan is an amnesty plan, as even most of its defenders admit. How then can the platform say what it says?
Rep. Tom Tancredo has the solution to this enigma . “It’s Clintonlike doublespeak in a Republican platform,” says the man who has done more than anyone else in Congress on the immigration issue.“I’m against amnesty, but let me define what amnesty is,” he says, mocking the weasel words with which the platform smuggles amnesty into its language and covertly commits the party to it. I suppose Mr. Bush would reply, “It depends on what you mean by‘amnesty’.”
Like Mr. Bauer, Mr. Tancredo worries about what will happen on Election Day as a result.
“The president is wrong not to reach out to his base, which opposes amnesty. This pandering to Hispanic voters is going to get the president into more trouble than if he dealt with illegal immigration forthrightly.”
Both Mr. Bauer and Mr. Tancredo are right to be concerned that the platform’s de-emphasis of conservative values or its actual importation of anti-conservative language will cause problems in cranking out the rank-and-file conservative vote in November, but on the other hand, the administration and its strategists have a little secret weapon of their own. Its name is John Kerry.
The administration strategy is that while it may be necessary (still) to stroke the right-wing of the party with rhetoric and knee-bends to anti-abortion and immigration control measures, the blunt reality is that those who demand the rhetoric and knee bends have nowhere else to go, and if they don’t support the Republicans, they will get Mr. Kerry.
The rank-and-file conservatives have been trained in much the same way as the Russian psychologist Pavlov trained his dogs—to salivate on cue. The cue this year is Mr. Kerry and the specter of a Democratic victory. As long as the strategists for Mr. Bush can wiggle that flag in front of conservative noses, they need not worry too much about what will happen on Election Day to the party’s base.
Yet sooner or later it may occur to that base that this is a game the party establishment has been playing for decades and that the longer they play it, the less reason the conservative base has to expect that it will ever get what it wants—not just language in the platform and the rhetoric of occasional presidential oratory but actual policies and legislation that, with serious presidential and party support, can bring what conservatives believe into reality.
As long as rank and file conservatives are content to allow themselves to be stampeded into the Republican corral by the red flag of a Democratic victory, they can expect the Republicans they elect and re-elect to betray them. If the right wing now finally sees betrayal, as the headline reported, it really has no one to blame but its own willingness to support those who perpetrate betrayal year after year, election after election.