Back when the Republican primary was still hot and heavy, Phyllis Schlafly told right-wing voters in New Hampshire that it was their job to “work these guys over” and pin them down on the issues important to them.
Once John McCain secured the nomination, the Right then began girding for what it expected to be a bloody fight before the convention over the party’s platform:
Conservative activists are preparing to do battle with allies of Sen. John McCain in advance of September’s Republican National Convention, hoping to prevent his views on global warming, immigration, stem cell research and campaign finance from becoming enshrined in the party’s official declaration of principles.
McCain has not yet signaled the changes he plans to make in the GOP platform, but many conservatives say they fear wholesale revisions could emerge as candidate McCain seeks to put his stamp on a document that currently reflects the policies and principles of President Bush.
“There is just no way that you can avoid anticipating what is going to come. Everyone is aware that McCain is different on these issues,” said Jessica Echard, executive director of the conservative Eagle Forum. “We’re all kind of waiting with anticipation because we just don’t know how he’s going to thread this needle.”
But they needn’t have worried, because the McCain campaign decided to sit this one out and let them have their way:
Republicans are inviting suggestions for their party platform this year, and thousands have responded online. But when a committee meets to draft the document in Minneapolis next week, one voice will be largely absent: John McCain’s.
The Republican standard-bearer is at odds with his party on such hot-button issues as global warming, immigration, campaign-finance overhaul, stem-cell research, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Many party stalwarts are also deeply skeptical when it comes to judicial nominations, given his Senate record.
Instead of fighting with party activists to form the platform around his own ideas, Sen. McCain has taken a hands-off approach.
And so they did:
Republicans on Tuesday debated election principles influenced by their conservative base as well as by presidential candidate John McCain, taking a hard line on abortion while edging toward a more moderate position on global warming.
In its platform debate, the party stuck to its call for a constitutional abortion ban despite McCain’s opposition to that, and toughened already uncompromising language on the issue.
Conservatives succeeded in removing a line from a platform draft urging a reduction in abortions _ underscoring their point that abortion should be eliminated.
So why did McCain decide to take a hands-off approach this time around? Maybe because he remembers what happened to Bob Dole back in 1996; Phyllis Schlafly certainly does:
In recent years both parties’ platforms have become less relevant: they’re often written by and for the parties’ bases and largely ignored by the candidates. That’s what happened in 1996, when Republican candidate Bob Dole, angry at some of the language in the document, claimed he hadn’t read it. Dole lost his bid for the presidency to incumbent President Bill Clinton.
Still, the platform can be a harbinger of new directions the party is likely to go, and conservatives say McCain would do well to pay attention to it.
“When we didn’t do what Bob Dole wanted he just went out and said he wasn’t going to pay attention to it anyway,” said Phyllis Schlafly, the founder of the advocacy group Eagle Forum, who has been active in Republican politics since 1952. “And we know what happened to Bob Dole.”