- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

NEW YORK — Delegates to the Republican National Convention who are inclined to express displeasure with President Bush’s performance have not been given much room to talk.

Political discipline imposed from the top of the Bush campaign on down stifled debate in the platform and any public dissent about a lineup of keynote speakers who hardly reflect the conservatism of the delegates.

“The fact is that this president has unified our party in a way I haven’t seen in 20 years,” said Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “You’d have to go back to Ronald Reagan to see this kind of unity and support for a president. The Republican Party today is George W. Bush’s party.”

The delegates, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released yesterday, are more conservative and religious and are less likely to believe the president made any mistakes in his execution of the war on terror and in Iraq than Republicans voters as a whole.

They are more stridently against homosexual “marriage” than Republican voters on the whole, 17 percent less likely to think that the environment should be protected “even if it means a loss of jobs” and, by a count of 86 percent to 70 percent, are more inclined to think that the war in Iraq was worth the costs in lives and money.

The delegates also overwhelmingly agree that Mr. Bush should talk about the role of religion in his life on the campaign trail — 80 percent — while only 68 percent of the overall party agreed.

The makeup of the delegation reflects chief Bush political strategist Karl Rove’s recognition that the White House needed to pre-empt any platform fights before the majority of delegates arrived in New York, party operatives and well-connected delegates told The Washington Times.

The White House and the Bush campaign did that by ensuring that only loyalists willing to accept discipline from the top became convention delegates.

The names of delegates to platform subcommittees were kept secret until the full committee began meeting last week.

“It’s the most tightly controlled convention I’ve ever seen,” said Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative icon for Republicans whose efforts to strengthen platform language on stem-cell research and immigration laws ran into a wall erected, she says, by the White House.

Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union, echoed Mrs. Schlafly’s assessment, as did Ann Stone, who heads Republicans for Choice.

Even stricter standards of reliability were applied to the selection of the party’s platform committee, in theory tasked with writing the platform, but, in fact, was a rubber stamp for the platform already written by the Bush-controlled staff.

“We’re all stooges for the campaign,” joked a delegate, who then stood with four other delegates in a mock pose for a picture they laughingly called “The Five Stooges.”

Outside interest groups normally able to lobby platform subcommittees have found themselves stymied.

More liberal Republican delegates failed to get a proposed “unity plank” that acknowledges different opinions on homosexual “marriage” and abortion to even come up for debate.

The platform instead states that the party would “respect and accept” a vague notion of differing views.

Mr. Gillespie said the way the platform was hammered out and the lineup of prime-time speakers shows that “we are inclusive to those who don’t agree with us 100 percent of the time.”

And although liberal Republicans might disagree at the way they were handled before the convention’s opening, the “Stooges” who spoke to The Washington Times said they were not bitter.

Rather, they accepted the need for control and discipline because they said they wanted to present a united front for the re-election of Mr. Bush.

Some disagreed with the president’s decision to go to war with Iraq or with the conduct of the war. Others were uncomfortable with his plan to grant guest worker status to illegal immigrant workers and his support for the huge new entitlement, in the form of subsidized prescription drugs for the elderly, and for nationalized testing for public-school students.

But all of them said the Democratic alternative, the election of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, was unthinkable.

So was the idea of showing any disunity before the microphones, despite speakers with pro-choice and pro-homosexual “marriage” views, such as former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, respectively.

Mr. Gillespie said Mr. Schwarzenegger likely will talk tomorrow night about being an immigrant who came to the United States with little money but boundless ambition.

Although many delegates will find the story inspirational, others will be reminded that Mr. Bush has loosened the immigration laws that the bodybuilder-turned-movie star had to follow more than 30 years ago.

The speeches delivered in prime time are a “collaborative effort,” Mr. Gillespie said, adding, “They don’t just show up and say whatever they want.”

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