That muffled Republican dissent

Where are the Republican moderates? In public appearances at Dallas, those who have been identified as such seemed to be embracing the conservative-flavored GOP platform. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, swallowing hard, said she could, perhaps, run on the platform. And Vice-President George Bush appeared to be simply elated over the current Republican ideological thrust.

But there are a lot of Republican dissenters; call them moderates or simply people who just can't quite go along with the party's statement of principles. They want to vote Republican - and probably will in November. But as of the moment, they are uttering no more than two cheers for Ronald Reagan and less than that for the platform, which they think bears too much of the imprint of Phyllis Schlafly and the far right.

First and foremost, those disenchanted Republicans refuse to walk in lock step with Mr. Reagan on his attitudes toward religion. They see themselves as being in the forefront of those who believe in the importance of religion. But they believe fervently in the separation of church and state. Hence they are deeply troubled by the President's recent utterances, in which he appears to be linking church and state very closely together. Specifically, they are unhappy with Mr. Reagan's sending an envoy to the Vatican and his pushing for tuition tax credits for parents with children in private/parochial schools.

A lot of Republicans, too, are troubled by the President's (and the platform's) stance against the Equal Rights Amendment. Some, like the President's daughter Maureen, favor ERA. But many Republicans who don't see ERA as necessary to the progress of women have come to the conclusion that ERA has become a symbol - that the GOP's anti-ERA position now carries the implication, to most women, that at the very least Republicans aren't too fired up over the issue of women's rights.

In fact, many Republican women wonder whether the President and his party really have their hearts in the cause of women's progress - Reagan's appointments of women to high public positions notwithstanding.

Many Republicans, too, believe the President has been, in the environmental field, too ''pro-development.'' Others criticize what they see as a cutback under Reagan in the federal commitment to education.

The Republican Party for years has had dissenters, often called moderates, sometimes progressives. Nelson Rockefeller was a leader of this group, even though on most domestic issues he was quite conservative. But Rockefeller won the title of ''progressive'' simply because back in the late '50s and early '60s he was out in front in the fight for civil rights. Now the party as a whole has embraced the civil rights positions that Rockefeller once had to fight for and on which he once stood virtually alone among his party's leadership.

All this is not to suggest that there is a dangerous split within the party as it heads toward the November election. Not at all.

There is little evidence that the GOP dissenters are feeling strongly enough about their complaints to leave the party. There is little in what the Democrats are offering this year that beguiles them. They are suspicious of Mondale: He's too liberal for them. They think he'll tax, all right - but then he'll use the money to increase federal spending.

More than anything else, these Republicans still like Reagan. They like his style. They like his consistency. They see him as a leader, a strong leader. It would take more than the reservations they now hold about his performance and policies to make them jump ship.

There's something else. Some of these GOP dissenters think Mr. Reagan isn't all that conservative. They see him not as an ideologue but as a pragmatist who in the end seeks the best solution to problems.

Thus most Republican dissenters are staying with the President. However troubled they might be over Reagan pronouncements, particularly on religious matters, they are hoping that many of the comments are just Reagan political rhetoric.

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