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Religious Right Chafes Under GOP's Push Toward Bush.

Conventional wisdom holds that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is a shoo-in for the Republican Party presidential nomination in the year 2000, but if some Religious Right leaders have their way, Bush may encounter some bumps along the road.

Frustrated over the seeming inevitability of a Bush candidacy, several Religious Right figures have lately begun to take shots at the front-runner and criticize the party for lining up behind him.

On July 13, New Hampshire Sen. Robert C. Smith publicly quit the GOP and blasted the party for not doing enough to advance the Religious Right's social agenda.

Smith had been seeking the GOP nomination himself and was frustrated by low poll numbers and name recognition. He charged that the Republicans were not giving Bush's contenders a chance and criticized the Texas governor for taking vague stances on contentious issues like abortion.

"I've come to the cold realization that the Republican Party is more interested in winning elections than supporting the principles of its platform," said Smith. "It's just a charade. The Republican platform is a meaningless document that has been put out there so suckers like me -- and maybe suckers like you out there -- can read it."

Smith blasted the GOP for not doing enough to make abortion illegal. He noted that he was one of only three Republican senators to oppose the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, saying, "I voted against Ginsburg because, like the Republican platform says, I want judges who respect the sanctity of innocent human life."

The GOP's pro-life platform plank, Smith said, "isn't worth the paper it's written on."

Smith has announced that he will seek the presidential nomination of the U.S. Taxpayers Party, a small party of ultra-conservatives founded by Religious Right operative Howard Phillips. The party, which ran Phillips for president in 1992 and '96, is currently working to win ballot access in all 50 states.

That same day, former Family Research Council head Gary Bauer blasted Bush and blamed him for Smith's departure from the GOP.

Bauer, who is also seeking the Republican presidential nomination, told The Washington Times, "George W. Bush has been effectively in charge of the Republican Party for about four months now, and so, after four months of a Bush Republican Party, the only measurable result we've got is that Republicans have one fewer senator in Congress, which is not a good start."

Bauer said if Bush fails to stake out conservative positions on social and economic issues he won't work for the ticket.

"I will stay in the Republican Party," said Bauer, "but I am not going to use a lifetime of credibility I've built up in and out of government to help the party establishment deceive conservative voters. I'll go fishing with my son on Election Day and catch up on family matters."

Bauer criticized Bush most severely for his stand on abortion as a litmus test for Supreme Court appointments. Although Bush opposes abortion, he has refused to say he would appoint only nominees who share that view.

When Bush uttered that statement, charged Bauer, he "signaled that he is not willing to weigh the cultural issues in whom he puts on the court."

Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly is also upset over the GOP stampede to anoint Bush. In a July letter to supporters, she blasted Bush and the Republican Party for allegedly covering up issues of "foreign policy, foreign wars, foreign trade and foreign handouts. Despite our two-party system, there is a curious unwillingness to confront Clinton on these major national issues that affect the lives of our servicemen, our tax burden, our jobs, and the future of American sovereignty."

Some Republican strategists are worded that the Religious Right may bolt the party. In July reports circulated that Pat Buchanan was considering seeking the nomination of Ross Perot's Reform Party, but Buchanan insisted he has no intention of leaving the GOP.

"I'll be blunt here," Frank Luntz, a party pollster, told The Washington Times. "Gov. Bush is going to be the next president unless there is a strong fight-wing, third-party challenge. The only way for Al Gore to win is for the Republican Party to split itself."

Conservative columnist Tony Snow criticized Smith and other "Taliban Republicans" for their rigid views. "The Taliban Republicans take a dark view of human nature," Snow wrote. "They consider the rest of us a bunch of potential dupes and regard society as a stew of corrupting influences. They look upon government as the ultimate street cleaner and see nothing untoward in declaring the moral equivalent of martial law: Jail the sinners, elevate the saints, establish the rule of the righteous, and do it all before the next sunrise."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 1999
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