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Abortion ‘Zealotry’ Draws Fire as Republicans Pick New Chief

January 30, 1993

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ The Republican Party’s new chairman says it must move beyond its nasty abortion fight but stops short of his predecessor’s blunt remark that anti- abortion ″zealotry masquerading as principle″ is a threat to the future.

″If you make abortion the threshold issue of Republicanism you need your heads examined,″ lawyer-lobbyist Haley Barbour said Friday after he was elected Republican National Committee chairman. ″I am pro-life, but you do not have to agree with Haley Barbour on every issue to be a Republican.″

Hours before, departing Chairman Rich Bond told activists that sticking to the GOP’s fiercely anti-abortion platform language was a ″sure path to disaster″ because the party’s rigid stance alienated moderate voters.

Barbour, 45, a conservative who opposed abortion as a 1982 Senate candidate, said it was up to 1996 GOP convention delegates whether to alter the party platform.

″I think abortion needs to be less of an issue between now and then,″ Barbour said.

But he offered no details about how he would referee the fight, which erupted anew Friday and dashed any hopes of a show of unity at the RNC’s first meeting since the party’s 1992 presidential defeat.

The RNC meeting was ending today after speeches by Barbour and Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who heads the GOP Senate Campaign Committee and is a likely 1996 presidential contender.

In a remarkably blunt farewell address, Bond brought into the open the GOP abortion debate that has been the subject of corridor conversations at party gatherings since last summer’s conservative-dominated convention.

To a party whose 1992 platform labeled all abortions murder, Bond suggested a ″middle ground″ in which the GOP would recognize ″it is impossible″ to eliminate abortion rights. The party would dedicate itself to teaching ″why that choice should not be made.″

In his final hours as chairman, Bond broke sharply from the religious right and others who want to keep the party behind a ban on all abortions.

″Our job is not to administer litmus tests on any issue or to be the champions of any single-issue cause,″ Bond said. ″America is getting more diverse, not more look-alike.″

″Our job is to recognize this change and offer platforms and candidates and policies that reflect changing times and do not cling to zealotry masquerading as principle and the stale ideas of the dead and dying past,″ he said.

Bond’s remarks drew bitter responses from conservatives on hand for Barbour’s election to lead the Republican critique of the new Democratic administration and referee the GOP’s internal fights.

″We don’t need advice from the losers,″ conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly told reporters after Bond spoke. She said abortion foes were the party’s most reliable voters.

″So why do they want to kick these people out?″ she asked.

The National Right to Life Committee said Bond was ″advocating political suicide″ for the GOP.

While stopping short of endorsing Bond’s view, Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas acknowledged, ″We’ve got a problem with this issue.″

He said the party should ″have no litmus tests″ on abortion or other issues but would not say whether he favored dropping the platform’s abortion plank in 1996.

Bond opposed changing the platform at last summer’s Houston convention, when he said of Republicans and their values: ″We are America. These other people are not.″

But on Friday, he drew a standing ovation after saying: ″I hope we recognize abortion as the states’ issue that it is and return our national platform discussions to the issues we as a party win and lose elections on - peace, prosperity and national defense.″

At another point, he said: ″Our job is to win elections, not cling to intolerances that zealots call principles, not to be led or dominated by a vocal few who like to look good losing. That is a sure path to disaster.″

Barbour won the chairman’s race on the third ballot. Other candidates were former Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft, former Michigan GOP Chairman E. Spencer Abraham, former Colorado GOP Chairman Howard ″Bo″ Callaway and former Oregon state Chairman Craig Berkman.

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