St. Paul — Look, I know how this works. You want to know what’s in the 2008 Republican Platform . . . really, you do. But there’s just so much going on in Denver — look, there goes Ward Churchill acting like he’s Brad Pitt at Cannes! — that you don’t have time to read the thing. I get it.
So does my editor. That’s why I’m walking the skyways of Minneapolis this week. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be covering the GOP Platform Committee as it tries to craft a workable set of policy positions for Republicans in time for the convention. The committee is using this draft as a starting point. I went ahead and read through it, as they say, so you wouldn’t have to. Here’s what you need to know:
The first thing to note is that the 2008 draft is a radical departure from the 2004 platform. For one thing, it is only half as long. The 2004 platform was full of detailed explanations of what the Bush administration perceived to be the successes of its first term and how it wished to build on those successes in a second term. The document referenced President Bush or the Bush administration over 200 times.
#ad#This platform doesn’t reference President Bush or the Bush administration at all. Nor does it spend a lot of time explaining John McCain’s policy positions or his record on the issues. In fact, McCain’s name doesn’t appear in the document, period. For a better comparison, one might look to the 2000 platform. But even before he was an incumbent, Bush’s platform leaned heavily on his stands and his record. The 2000 platform mentioned then-Governor Bush over 40 times.
The 2008 draft is unlike either of Bush’s platforms in that it is not personality-driven. Rather, it lays out a basic set of principles for Republicans to follow on each major policy question facing the country. This would seem to be consistent with reports that McCain took a hands-off approach to this year’s draft. But a look at the document reveals that the actual language doesn’t differ too greatly from the kind of stuff McCain says in his speeches and at his townhall meetings all the time.
Thus the widely predicted fights between John McCain and the party base probably aren’t going to happen, argues Steven Duffield, the Platform Committee’s executive director. “The story the mainstream media wants to tell is McCain vs. the base,” Duffield says. “That’s just not there in this process. We have found language and approaches that recognize how few the differences are and amplify the many agreements.”
Take immigration: On the stump, McCain often says that he learned his lesson when he tried and failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate. He says he failed because the American people did not trust the government to secure the borders. The 2008 draft echoes this language: “We oppose amnesty,” it says. “The American people’s rejection of en masse legalizations is especially appropriate given the federal government’s past failures to enforce the law.”
On enforcement, the 2008 draft goes considerably beyond the 2004 platform, which endorsed Bush’s temporary-worker program and path to citizenship. The 2008 draft calls for the completion of a fence along the Mexican border and a crackdown on sanctuary cities (cities that do not enforce federal immigration laws). This goes beyond what McCain usually ventures into on the stump, but there was give as well as take: The draft also emphasizes the primacy of English in American life, but it stops short of calling for English to be made the official language of the U.S.
The passages on global warming provide another example. The draft acknowledges that human activity is contributing to warming and calls for “measured and reasonable” steps to curtail it. Policymakers should support solutions that are “technology-driven, market-based,” and not fall prey to “doomsday climate change scenarios.” The document states that Republicans “will insist on reasonable policies that do not force Americans to sacrifice their way of life or trim their hopes and dreams for their children.”
Of course, many conservatives argue that the cap-and-trade legislation McCain supports would force Americans to sacrifice, but McCain is free to argue that this is not the case, just as he argues that a cap-and-trade system would be technology-driven and market-based. Read properly, the draft does not endorse cap-and-trade, but it does not pin McCain into a corner over his support for it, either.
It would be foolish to predict that the process of turning this draft into a finished product will go perfectly smoothly, but Republicans just don’t seem to be spoiling for a fight this year. Perhaps, like you, they’re keeping one eye on Denver, and they’re starting to realize that whatever quibbles they have with John McCain look very small indeed when set against the alternative of a federal government under unified Democratic control.
– Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.