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Rockefeller Republicans Take Manhattan


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Kate O'Beirne

The lineup of primetime speakers at the Republican Convention predictably reflects its New York location by giving prominent spots to the hosts, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki. But those enjoying the coveted spotlight also pay tribute to New York’s former Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Joining the hosts will be other mavericks and dissidents who represent a minority in Ronald Reagan’s GOP. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona’s Senator John McCain, and California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will all be at the primetime podium. The only announced speaker who actually agrees with President Bush on major issues is Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georigia.

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The decision to showcase rogue elephants as representatives of the modern Republican party is not the mark of a self-confident party establishment. If the lineup is intended to make an overwhelmingly conservative party attractive to swing voters, it does so by pretending to be something it’s not. The Republican party seems to habitually internalize the criticisms of its opponents. When the only Reagan Republican to enjoy a prominent supporting role at the party’s convention is a Democrat, the GOP has a serious identity problem. The Kerry-Edwards ticket is liberal. The Boston convention will not be featuring Louisiana senator John Breaux in an attempt to pretend otherwise.

At the Big Apple convention, three Kerry Catholics will be representing the millions of faithful Catholics being aggressively courted by the Bush campaign. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will likely be heard from as a congressional leader, but haven’t senators who have been on point on crucial issues like abortion, cloning, same-sex marriage, and international human rights earned primetime placement alongside their tormentor John McCain? Conservative Republicans should be asking why senators like Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback aren’t enjoying the same public embrace as the New York Times’ favorite Republican.

While it is true that conservatives like Colorado Governor Bill Owens and Rep. Melissa Hart (Penn.) will have prominent roles on the platform committee during the week before the convention opens, they will not be spotlighted like the speakers who regularly break ranks.

Given the political ambitions of some of the speakers, the party faithful should pray that Rockefeller Republicanism is not back in the future.



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