In the not-too-distant future, George W. Bush will select his running
mate. Should he even consider picking someone who is pro-choice? I
believe not. Will it matter? I believe so, greatly.
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Apparently, even among pro-life conservative Republicans there is no
unanimity of opinion on this question. A few days ago, I was talking
with a group of ardently pro-life friends who thought Bush should select
the candidate who would add the most to the ticket, even if he were
pro-choice. They didn't seem to think the vice presidential candidate's
views on abortion were prohibitively important.
Their reasons and my responses:
Even a pro-life president can appoint liberal judges, such as David
Souter. Well, I cannot deny that a conservative president can err by
unintentionally appointing liberal, activist judges. My hope, though, is
that Governor Bush has learned from the mistakes of his predecessors and
will do a better job of vetting his appointees.
Bush will have a better chance of attracting moderates if he chooses
a pro-choicer. I reject the idea that Republicans build their big tent
by compromising on profound moral issues. They do so on the solid
foundation of a committed conservative base who believe enough in their
candidate to enthusiastically support him.
A pro-choice running mate who is otherwise a strong candidate will
not drive off pro-life conservatives, because they have nowhere else to
go. For example, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, despite not being
pro-life, could help deliver his state's vitally important electoral
votes. The fallacy with this argument is that they do have somewhere
else to go. They can stay home, and some will. Beyond that, I don't
think this is purely a numbers game. Many grass-roots voters are not
merely one-dimensional. They do more than vote. They get out and work in
the trenches for candidates they truly believe in. While many of them
may still go to the polls and vote for Bush, they will do it devoid of
enthusiasm and intensity.
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In addition, I belong to the camp who believes that, generally
speaking, a vice-presidential candidate can only hurt a ticket, not help
it, even if he or she is a popular governor from a populous swing state.
Maybe some undecided voters will be swayed by the running mate, but for
the most part, they are going to base their decision on the presidential
candidate alone, unless his running mate is affirmatively offensive. And
to many pro-life voters, a pro-choice running mate will be abundantly
This will be a particular problem for Governor Bush. He won over the
base with his unapologetically conservative approach in fending off the
McCain challenge. Though his grass-roots support is solid, it is
residually skeptical. I'm afraid his selection of a pro-choice running
mate would cause that skepticism to ripen into disillusionment. Some
might even conclude that he is not firmly pro-life himself, which would
be devastating to his campaign.
Most pro-choice candidates will be troublesome to the base for
another reason. Most of them are not strict constructionists of the
Constitution. And few things are more objectionable to conservatives
today than this nation's departure from its constitutional roots. While
it is theoretically possible for a pro-choice person to be a strict
constructionist, it is not likely. Most pro-choicers support Roe v.
Wade, the Supreme Court decision that grafted into the Constitution the
mother's right to privacy -- which severely restricts the power of
states to regulate abortion.
Finally, a few words about the pro-life purists. They believe that
abortion is fundamentally a moral issue -- one involving life and death,
literally. It is not an issue about which they feel morally empowered to
compromise. Extremism in defense of life is no vice.
On the other hand, it is perfectly reasonable for others to believe
that such purists may ultimately set back their own cause by aiding and
abetting Al Gore's quest for the White House. But the point of this
column is not to address whether the purists would be justified in
abandoning Bush or refusing to work for him if he selects a pro-choice
running mate -- just whether they would and if it would make a
difference. They would, and it would.