Fate of the Union: America's Rocky Road to Political Stalemate

By Robert Shogan | Go to book overview

11
Divided They Ran

BEFORE Dole COULD PROPERLY PREPARE for the convention and for the fall campaign against Clinton, he first had to deal with a problem within his own party that threatened to undermine the slim chance he had of success in the fall. This was the struggle over abortion. The importance of this issue in the politics of the Republican party testified to the shallowness of American political parties. The constitutional impediments to the healthy growth of parties made it possible for factions, the very forces that Madison and his colleagues despised, to wield influence far out of proportion to their numbers. In the case of abortion, the so-called pro-life proponents who bitterly opposed abortion swept into control of the party machinery in 1980 as part of the Reagan takeover and had remained there ever since. Opinion polls showed that Republicans held widely divergent views on the right of women to control their reproductive processes. Yet the foes of abortion allowed for no dissent from their unrelenting opposition to abortion in the party platform.

The strength of the antiabortion forces derived from their singlemindedness and willingness to expend vast amounts of time and energy fighting for their cause in a political system in which the majority of citizens barely summoned up enough interest to vote. Although polls showed that a majority of Americans favored some right to abortion, in the only poll that really counted -- on election day -- it was only those who regarded abortion as a sin against God who could be counted on to vote for or against a candidate solely dependent on the candidate's stand on that issue. Thus, for convention after convention, the antiabortion forces prevailed, keeping their plank in the platform because they cared more than anyone else.

But in 1996, that dominance was threatened by the weakness of Dole's position as a challenger to Clinton, whom he trailed by margins well into the double digits throughout the spring. Months before the August Republican

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