- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

PHILADELPHIA There is a conspicuous absence of prominent conservatives of the past and certainly no conservative of Ronald Reagan's stature, Pat Robertson's persuasion or Pat Buchanan's fiery appeal featured at the Republican National Convention here.
A few conservatives are grumbling about it even hinting that Texas Gov. George W. Bush wants to keep them in the closet for fear of offending centrist and swing voters.
"There are fewer prominent conservatives featured here than at previous conventions," said Rep. Bob Barr, the Georgia conservative who was the first Republican lawmaker to move to begin preliminary impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. "And I don't think anything happens by coincidence in politics."
Mr. Reagan, of course, is incapacitated and Mr. Robertson last spoke at a Republican National Convention in 1992, when some Republicans thought he made some embarrassing remarks. Mr. Robertson, the head of the Christian Coalition, who helped Mr. Bush from behind the scenes to win some crucial contests earlier this year, is tucked away comfortably in a skybox at this convention.
And Pat Buchanan has left the Republican Party to run on the Reform ticket.
Nor are the fiery Alan Keyes and the quiet-mannered Steve Forbes scheduled to speak, both former rivals of Mr. Bush in the primary. Grumbles have come from some conservatives about the absence of Mr. Keyes and Mr. Forbes and the featuring of openly homosexual Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, said Phyllis Schlafly, a national social conservative and pro-life Republican leader.
Sen. Phil Gramm, however, suggested that not all well-known conservatives are good speakers up to the task of addressing the party's nominating convention.
"I've had three opportunities to give a good speech at a national convention, and I've never given one," said Mr. Gramm, who was candidly critical of his one prime-time speech immediately after he gave it at the 1988 Republican National Convention.
"I was a half-beat off for the whole speech," he said at the time.
Among the Republicans who competed for the Republican nomination, only Arizona Sen. John McCain, a conservative on some issues, has a featured slot tonight, but he managed to attract hordes of independent and swing voters during his campaign voters who can help Mr. Bush win in November.
Instead of big-name conservatives, this convention features more blacks, Hispanics and Asians than any previous Republican convention in a move to portray a new and inclusive GOP.
Most leading conservatives, in fact, said they are going along with Mr. Bush's strategy. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich yesterday dismissed the complaints of a few conservatives here that the convention program is largely devoid of big-name leaders on the right who even approach the stature of Mr. Reagan because Mr. Bush wants it that way.
"I don't think the Washington organization conservatives are represented on the nightly program," he told The Washington Times. "But neither are the Washington-based organized moderates. So you can't keep score the old way."
Mike Farris, a Virginia social conservative who heads a national home-schooling movement, noted that Paul C. Harris Sr., a pro-life Virginia General Assembly delegate from Virginia, led off last night's convention program. But Mr. Harris spoke in the 7:30-8 p.m. slot, before prime-time television coverage.
Mr. Farris said the strategy of downplaying conservative leaders on the program was to spotlight cultural diversity rather than making ideological statements. "The rap against the Republican Party has been that we're not inclusive about minorities, and Gov. Bush has an excellent record in that regard and he wants to carry that momentum forward nationally."
Ralph Reed, former Christian Coalition executive director, agreed.
"Gov. Bush has succeeded in taking a values message that was often perceived I believe unfairly as harsh and judgmental and has transformed it into a message of hope, healing and helping those who have been left behind," said Mr. Reed.
Some leaders on the right argued that what matters most is not who the prime-time speakers are, but the preservation of the party's principles. And except for softening the platform's disapproval of illegal immigration, the document adopted by the convention preserves the anti-abortion language and other items of importance to a conservative party.
"The conservative movement is more concerned about the platform and the candidates and we got both of those at this convention," Mr. Farris said.
Another leading Virginia conservative, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, summed up the view of most conservatives here.
"We are determined to have a united front," he said. "We are happy to go along with the Bush campaign to assure enthusiastic conservative support, but also so he can reach out to build the necessary majority for winning the election."

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