ANALYSIS Dobson, other ''pro-lifers'' attack GOP's 'big tent' By Tom Strode

Source: Baptist Press for March 20, 1995

Dobson, other "pro-lifers"
attack GOP's 'big tent'
                              By Tom Strode

      WASHINGTON (BP)--James Dobson is at the forefront of evangelical
leaders who are making it difficult for the Republican Party to tiptoe
around the abortion issue on its way to the 1996 elections.
      The Focus on the Family cult's president, who has fired a series of
recent warning shots at the GOP's "big-tent" philosophy, warned
Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour in a March 6 letter
mailing he would do everything possible to activate Christians to oppose
the party leadership if it backs away from a pro-life position.
      Focus on the Family buttressed Dobson's promise with the largest
direct-mail effort in the ministry's 18-year existence, totaling 112,000
      James A. Smith of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission,
voiced agreement with Dobson's concerns, saying, "... it is reasonable
for pro-life Republicans to expect that the party leadership will abide
by its own platform.  It would be a mistake of significant political
magnitude if the party moves away from its pro-life position."
      Dobson, in his letter to Barbour, said Republicans could not have
won majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives without the
votes of evangelical Christians, most of whom are strongly pro-life.
      "Nevertheless, you are prepared to disregard the concerns that
brought these men and women to the polls and rewrite the party platform
to exclude them," Dobson charged in his letter.  "Is that not
exceedingly arrogant?  What political foolishness to taunt and insult
those whose support you covet!
      "I think you should warn the Republican presidential hopefuls that
it will be impossible to skirt the moral issues in 1996," Dobson also
told Barbour.  "They may choose to waffle on the things that matter
most, and indeed, several have already done that.  But they will not be
able to double-talk, side step, obfuscate and ignore the concerns that
burn within our hearts.  You have my word on that."
      In a March 10 response to Dobson, Barbour, wrote he was surprised
by the tone of the broadcaster's letter and he does not believe the
phrase "big tent" is a negative one.
      "To me, it simply means ours is an open party," he wrote.  "While
we are the conservative party, ours is a broad and diverse party.  And I
work hard to be inclusive, to be open."
      One of the great Republican accomplishments of the last two years,
Barbour said, has been:  "Pro-life Republicans voting for pro-choice
Republicans and pro-choice Republicans voting for pro-life Republicans."
      He would not "attempt to 'rewrite the party platform to exclude
(pro-life evangelical Christians),' as your letter to me states,"
Barbour wrote.  "Being a pro-life evangelical Christian myself, I have
no reason to do so, but, much more importantly, as chairman of the
Republican National Committee I have no authority to do so."
      It would be the "height of arrogance" for him to impose his views
on a platform which should be determined by the delegates to the 1996
convention, Barbour said.
      Dobson, however, said in his letter the RNC chairman was
"intransigent and unsympathetic" in a recent meeting in Barbour's
      "He and his colleagues foolishly believe Christian voters will not
notice the dramatic change in the party platform -- or if they do, they
will not care," Dobson told the ministers.  "I think he is dead wrong."
      And in his March newsletter to 2.1 million Focus on the Family
constituents, Dobson encouraged them not to vote for any politician who
supports abortion rights.
      "To compromise on so fundamental an issue gives Republican party
leaders no incentive to defend the pro-life position," Dobson wrote.
"By voting for a moderate pro-abortionist who might be more desirable in
the short run, we squander our influence on decision makers.  Rather,
when a significant number of votes are cast for a third party/pro-life
candidate, even in a losing cause, that fact will not go unnoticed by
political leaders."
      The issue also has been voiced on his daily radio show, broadcast
on 4,000 stations worldwide, and future broadcasts also will address it,
Dobson said.
      "If that doesn't change some hearts and minds at RNC, then we'll
launch a second, third and four wave to generate support," he told
      The three leading candidates for the Republican presidential
nomination Sen. Bob Dole, R.-Kan; Sen. Phil Gramm, R.-Texas, and former
Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander -- have not shown an eagerness to
address the abortion issue.
      Gramm, a self-confessed pro-lifer who is considered the most
conservative of the trio, said on the March 12 telecast of NBC's "Meet
the Press" he would not propose as president a constitutional amendment
to overturn abortion rights, The Washington Post reported.  While he has
supported the party's pro-life platform plank, Gramm said, "We recognize
... that we don't have unity of purpose on abortion, that we're going to
have to recognize that there are good Republicans who differ," The Post
reported.  He opposes taxpayer funding of abortion unless the mother's
life is in danger, Gramm said. The platform plank includes endorsement
of a constitutional amendment to protect unborn children from
      Alan Keyes, an underdog for the Republican presidential
nomination, issued a rousing call for the party to stick to the pro-life
plank in its platform during a New Hampshire dinner at which other
candidates spoke.
      An African American, Keyes was in the Reagan administration State
Department.  His Feb. 19 speech was broadcast two consecutive days in
late February by Focus on the Family.  Focus on the Family received a
nearly unprecedented 9,000 telephone calls in response to the
broadcasts, an organization spokesman said.
      "We don't have money problems; we have moral problems.  And it's
time we stood up and faced that truth," Keyes said in the speech.  "And
I don't know how, I don't know how we're gonna face that truth, if, as
was suggested here today, we can look our daughters in the eye and tell
them that it is somehow consistent with freedom for them to trample on
the human rights of their unborn offspring."
      Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, warned
in mid-February that Republican pro-life evangelicals and Catholics will
not support a 1996 ticket which includes a pro-choice presidential or
vice presidential candidate, but he seemed to soften those remarks four
weeks later.
      Christian Coalition's Reed issued his warning about the Republican
ticket at a conservative convention, but in a television interview March
11, Reed said the organization will not make abortion a litmus test for
the '96 ticket.  When asked on CNN's "Evans and Novak," Reed refused to
say if he would support New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman or another
pro-choicer for vice president, The Washington Times reported.
      "Any party big enough to have a majority is big enough to have a
diversity of views.  That's not a sign of weakness; it's a sign of
strength," he said.
      If the Republicans remove the plank calling for an amendment to
ban abortion, Reed said he would not see that alone as a signal the
party was turning away from pro-lifers "as long as the party made it
clear that its objective was to protect the unborn, the aged and the
disabled in every way that it possibly could," The Times reported.