You’d think these would be happy times for Republicans.
The federal budget is a heartbeat away from being balanced for the first time since Richard Nixon occupied the White House, proving that deficit hawks were right all along — when the federal government stops hogging the country’s money supply America’s private sector kicks into high prosperity.
The GOP controls both chambers of Congress, and is likely to hold the reins on Capitol Hill until the turn of the century. To be sure, Bill Clinton’s polling numbers are reasonably high, but Republican party stalwarts can make a pretty good case the president got there by stealing all their best ideas. As they look across the aisle, GOP strategists see the Clinton-type “new Democrats” gearing up for a bloody civil war with Dick Gephardt’s “old Democrats,” that gang of history book losers on the other side of the Nixon, Reagan and Bush landslides.
“Is there any way Republicans can shoot themselves in the foot?” you ask.
Count on it.
This is the party whose conservative wing cheered when Colin Powell, the only Republican with a chance of beating Clinton, was scared out of the race. Better to lose the White House with a Luddite like Pat Buchanan, they reasoned, than win it with a centrist candidate like Powell who was appealing to a majority of Americans.
The same Republicans think the GOP would be a better place without Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. Next week, at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee in Palm Springs, Calif., Tim Lambert, an RNC member from Texas, will introduce a resolution that would bar the national party from giving campaign contributions or otherwise assisting GOP candidates who have not taken a stand against partial-birth abortions. Snowe, Collins, Giuliani and Whitman are the most prominent pro-choice Republicans not to support a proposed partial-birth abortion ban.
Lambert, who proved he’s no rocket scientist, explained to The New York Times the intellectual rationale behind his proposed partial-birth abortion ban “litmus test.”
The RNC, he pointed out, repudiated Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s candidacy for governor of Louisiana after Duke won the GOP nomination in that state.
“I find it difficult to understand why we’re willing to take a stand against racism when we’re not willing to take a stand against infanticide,” Lambert told the Times.
RNC chairman Jim Nicholson, who conceded there is a good chance Lambert’s resolution might pass next week, took the unusual step of coming out publicly against the proposed resolution. Nicholson, who is pro-life, said a litmus test on the abortion issue runs counter to the Republican Party’s concept of a “big tent” encompassing many political beliefs. The big tent phraseology was coined by Ronald Reagan, who said, “Those who agree with us 80 percent of the time are our allies, not our foes.”
The idea of targeting two of the GOP’s three woman members of the U.S. Senate seems cunningly absurd, given the party’s mounting woes with female voters. Bob Dole ran within hailing distance of Clinton last year among male voters, but was swamped by Clinton among women who went to the polls. Women accounted for 52 percent of last year’s presidential vote and gave Clinton a 17-percentage-point edge.
Lambert’s resolution, should it pass, would present a Hobson’s choice for Snowe and Collins, the only remaining bright lights in Maine’s darkened attic of Republican political talent. The choices are: Get with the national GOP’s Christian right program on abortion; or stay pro-choice and be ostracized by your own national party. The final option, of course, would be to establish a new Maine third party with independent Gov. Angus King.
Kevin Keough, Maine’s Republican State Committee chairman, thinks the abortion litmus test is a media story that isn’t going to happen.
“I’m firmly against this thing. I bet you it won’t pass,” said Keough, who will attend the Palm Springs meeting with state RNC committee members Doris Russell and Ken Cole.
“Our chairman is pro-life. I’m absolutely against partial-birth abortions,” said Keough. But to make one’s position on that divisive issue the standard for defining who is and isn’t a real Republican is the height of folly, he said.
“What’s next? Do we all have to support a certain type of tax cut, or must we back moving our troops around the world in a certain way?” Keough asked. If we start down this road, Maine’s GOP chairman added, “we ought to have our heads examined.”
Needless to say, aides to Collins and Snowe were not thrilled about the Texan’s move to turn their bosses into Republican political pariahs.
“One of the prime tenets of the GOP philosophy is state rights. This would cut into the right of Maine voters to choose their own candidates,” said Felica Knight, Collins’ press spokeswoman.
David Lackey, Snowe’s director of communications, said, “A litmus test could drive people away from the party. We are pleased that Chairman Nicholson has come out and personally opposed the resolution.”
Lambert’s idea will never fly, because of a reason that has little to do with abortions.
Money drives all political campaigns.
Most of the GOP’s big contributors are not ideological zealots. The notion of a pencil pusher at RNC headquarters having the authority to take money from Maine companies seeking access to Snowe and Collins, and diverting those funds to a pro-life advocate running for Congress in backwater Mississippi just won’t fly with corporate America. — WASHINGTON John Day’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org