New Republican brand of 'conciliation' politics
Detroit — Unity -- and brevity -- have quickly emerged as dominant 1980 GOP convention themes. In a carnival release of political tensions, GOP delegates sport while 10 -gallon "Reagan" hats in hotel lobbies. Peddlers on downtown malls sell campaign buttons bearing full-color likeness of Ronald Reagan. The public gawks at Washington and media celebrities, crowded by cameramen with gear perched on their shoulders like pet crows.
But above this traditional hoopla, GOP leaders here are engaged in a more serious ritual -- a "coming together" on a broad scale.
This coming together means not only mollifying moderate Republicans wiped out in both the city nomination and platform fights, Republican professionals here say. It also must project a spirit of unity beyond party factions -- an outreach by the victorious GOP conservatives to middle-of-the-road American voters -- independents, Democrats, and rank-and-file Republicans alike.
Mr. Reagan's next major vehicle for this outreach will be his Wednesday night acceptance speech, Republican pros here indicate. If the speech is carefully crafted, it should reassure the public on counts raised by the party platform. Mr. Reagan would stress a commitment to equal rights for women despite the platform's rejection of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. He would emphasize a compassion for blacks or other minorities affronted by the party's antibusing plank.
Then, at 11 a.m. Eastern time Thursday, Mr. Reagan will name his running mate. A moderate choice -- with George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Michigan Congressman Guy Vander Jagt, and Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana the apparent front-runners -- would carry even greater reassurance that Mr. Reagan is not captive of his party's conservative wing, it is almost universally agreed here now. Even influential delegates who describe themselves as "ultra-right wing" appear to be preparing themselves to accept a moderate selection -- though some may make a momentary fuss.
"We're crystallized on the need for unity," says Georgia National Republican Committeeman Carl Gillis, who labels himself "very, very conservative."
"If Reagan says it's Bush, we can't get excited. We just can't get divided on this. If he says [conservative Congressman Jack] Kemp, there may be noise. Liberals are even more vocal about these things."
"I don't see what can be done this week but keep the party united," says Dick Darling, delegate from Palm Springs, Calif. "I'm a humoredly. "Conservatives are in control of this convention. I prefer [conservative Illinois Congressman] Phil Crane. But I've an idea it'll probably be Bush -- and I can accept that with no problem."
Some Republicans worry, however, that the Reagan campaign leadership has not yet fully grasped the importance of reaching beyond the former California governor's conservative base in selecting a vice-presidential candidate. The conservatives tend to confuse unity with the power to control decisions.
"If George [Bush] or Howard [Baker] is selected, you're going to get a convention firestorm," says Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada, Reagan campaign chairman. Yet Senator Laxalt, a staunch conservative at least nominally in the running for the vice-presidency, adds: "There isn't anybody on that list so far out philosophically that they would be anathema."
Though largely out of sight here before this acceptance speech Wednesday, Mr. Reagan will "work the convention," through his advisers and key delegates, Mr. Laxalt says, to "test the political waters" before his final vice-presidential choice.
Major league GOP party leaders are pushing the unity theme.
Former President Reagan Ford -- who still tops Mr. Reagan in party protocol, occupying the 70th floor of Detroit's Plaza Hotel, above Mr. Reagan's 69th floor -- is helping nudge his own moderate supporters into the Reagan ranks.
Reagan operatives like chief-of-staff Edwin Meese are trying to put a little distance between Mr. Reagan and the hard-line GOP plat-form. While Mr. Reagan agrees with its broad strokes, they say, he retains options on details.
The "brevity" theme has been built into the convention schedule itself. The five televised sessions -- two Monday, followed by others Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings -- will total only 16 hours in all.
"This will be the shortest convention on record," says Robert Carter, convention record," says Robert Carter, convention manager for the Republican National Committee.
By contrast, the Democrats will spend 60 hours before cameras at New York City's Madison Square Garden in August.
The Republican convention motto -- "Together . . . a New Beginning" -- has been set in an anthem meant to rouse the 16,162 conventioners out of their seats in Detroit's Joe Louis arena, Mr. Carter says.
"We're going to show that the Republicans can have a good time, too," he asserts.
Breaking tradition, the convention keynote speech was shifted from the opening session to Tuesday night. Congressman Vander Jagt is the 1980 keynoter.
"The coronation of Mr. Reagan as nominee will occur at 10:47 Wednesday night, " convention manager Carter says. But the actual climax will occur Thursday evening when Mr. Reagan and his running-mate raise hands to the party's jubilant acclamation.
At least 120 million to 130 million Americans will be watching Thursday evening. Mr. Carter predicts.
However, it is hoped the nomination spectacle will not overwhelm the more deliberate outreach purpose of convention week, says Ken Reitz, convention program director.
"What we're trying to say this week is that the traditional image of the Republican Party -- upper income, suburban -- is not accurate," Mr. Reitz says. "We're a younger, more worker-oriented party. This is the direction we want to go for the '80s."