Will Reagan be hemmed in by platform?
Detroit — With Ronald Reagan not yet officially crowned as nominee, many Republicans here already are worried their candidate may be getting boxed in by headstrong conservatism at the convention.
The basic GOP logic of holding the convention in Detroit -- projecting an image of Republican outreach to a city of working class, urban, minority American's -- has been frustrated by hardline conservative platform planks on social issues like abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and busing, insiders says.
The direction the party wants to go was emphasized last Friday when GOP leaders met here with auto union chiefs to open "a dialogue." On Saturday, Mr. Reagan proposed a four-point econoic recovery program for the auto industry, which he said needed "protection from Washington," not from Japanese imports.
But some of the candidate's supporters argue that the Reagan campaign has been too lax in pointing out the November implications of crafting a too-conservative platform. The way co-chairman Mary Dent Crisp was ousted for resisting the conservative tide -- labeled "disloyal" by Mr. Reagan himself at an impromptu West Coast interview -- has underscored the "uncaring" tag that has hurt the candidate and his party in recent years. It could make the Republican image of concern for social issues -- the perception of being the "party of Lincoln" -- more difficult to recover.
Mr. Reagan can partly recoup from the platform's "rightish" brush strokes by saying the platform does not bind him. But a measure of harm has been done, say some of his backers, by the Reagan campaign allowing the platform to emerge as it did.
"There was an absolute lack of discipline" during the platform writing, says one GOP insider. "No leadership was exercised by the Reagan campaign. The delegates were doing what they . . . pleased. Nobody from the Reagan staff came in, sat down, and reasoned with these people -- to make them see the ramifications, the potential for harm. The great danger now would be to couple conservative pressure on the platform with pressure to take a conservative vice-president."
Neutral observers and Democratic strategists say the GOP platform actions "make no sense" in terms of positioning the candidate for a victory in November.
"I don't get it," says Peter D. Hart, pollster for a dozen incumbent Democratic senators up for re-election this fall. "It makes no more sense than McGovern in '72 insisting on a marijuana plank. They're taking a minority position for the sake of those who are already with the candidate.
"My theory for Reagan would be for him to stress economic issues and stay away from cultural issues.
"A constitutional amendment for abortion is widely rejected by the public. On Cultural issues, we're a lot more tolerant society. If the public is moving to the right economically, it's moving the other way on social issues."
The general impression of bending to ideological pressure, more than the specific platform issues themselves, could hurt Mr. Reagan for the fall, says John Robinson, an elections analyst at Cleveland State University.Mr. Robinson sees the country moving rightward on foreign policy and military-spending issues , but not on social issues.
"In social attitudes, there is no evidence of a shift since 1973 -- on issues like abortion poronography, extramarital sex, the 'family constellation' of issues," Mr. Robinson says. "There was quite a shift prior to 1973, but toward a more liberal stance, and opinion has stayed there."
"The ERA plank itself will not likely send off shockwaves, though it could be a polarizing issue by fall," Mr. Robinson says.
"The overall message from the platform is that conservatives are closing ranks . . . . It paints Reagan into a corner . . . . It [looms] like '64 with Goldwater, '72 with McGovern."
The platform planks opposing an Equal Rights Amendment and favoring an anti-abortion constitutional amendment could be partially offset by a "caring" advertising campaign -- which reportedly is already under preparation -- Mr. Robinson says. "The ads would have Mr. Reagan talk of his concern for folks on welfare, Nancy going into slums for pictures," Mr. Robinson says. "That's a sensible, pragmatic way to diffuse some of the platform's hardline appeal."
The platform's ideological thrust could make it hard for the party to recapture it's "party of Lincoln" mantle, suggests Everett Ladd, director of the Roper Center, an opinion research center.
"The party of Lincoln didn't die as long ago as people think," says Mr. Ladd. "Up to '64, the GOP was still plausibly a civil rights party. Nixon got 35 percent of the black vote in 1960.
"The most important recent election for Republicans was '64, when the GOP aligned itself as against minorities. This hurt the party even among whites. They said 'Hey, blacks may be pushing too far, but they should't be cut off.'
"ERA is in the same category as civil rights. It's a 'progress' issue. For the party to turn against ERA makes it suffer [even] with people who are not pro-ERA."