Muddying the Mainstream

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IT WAS billed as an historic occasion: “the first national political meeting of progressive Republicans ever held.’ On April 25-27, something called the Republican Mainstream Committee held its first national leadership conference in Chicago.

The committee is Iowa Congressman Jim Leach’s brainchild, intended to revive the comatose liberal wing of the Republican Party. The group first coalesced around an attempt to influence the 1984 Republican platform. Its mission? “To move our party away from excessive reliance on ideology and back to its base of sensible pragmatism,’ according to the 1984 Mainstream Manifesto.

“Mainstreamers’ insist they aren’t against conservatives, as long as they’re the right kind of conservatives. “Is it conservative to deny jurisdiction of the World Court? . . . Is it conservative to reject the call for women’s rights embodied in the ERA? . . . Is it conservative to nationalize women’s bodies by suggesting the abortion option be precluded by constitutional amendment?’ the Manifesto wonders.


Optimistic staffers predicted three to four hundred GOP moderates would attend the April conference; only 170 showed up. In addition to Leach, prominent Mainstreamers in attendance included Mary Louise Smith, former national party “chair’ and saleswoman for the ERA, and former Representative John Buchanan, chairman of Norman Lear’s People for the American Way. Only one presidential aspirant accepted the group’s invitation to speak: Delaware’s Pierre S. du Pont IV, former governor and U.S. representative (ACU: 45 per cent).

Since du Pont is known to be seeking conservative support for his presidential bid, his appearance was a surprise and, Mainstreamers thought, a coup. Then he gave his speech.

“What happened in America in the early 1980s, happened in Delaware in the late 1970s, and in neither case . . . was it “voodoo economics.”

Silence. The ladies began folding their arms over their chests.

“Those who would create that opportunity are called Republicans, we are called conservatives, we are called optimists.’

Souring faces, shifting bodies.

“Without marketplace competition,’ he declaimed, “our scholars are nowhere near as good at teaching as they should be . . .’


“Next thing you know he’ll be pushing vouchers,’ whispered one woman, clearly irritated.

“. . . and an educational voucher system for the disadvantaged will introduce some of that competition.’

Shaking heads, disbelieving laughter around the table. There was polite applause at the end, but many hands remained pinned under folded arms.

“I’d have gotten up and left if they’d fed us beforehand,’ griped one hungry Mainstreamer. Another noted that all the other speakers had received standing ovations. She had voted for Mondale in 1984.

Eight Mainstreamers were asked: If Mainstreamers represent the Republican political center, name one Republican politican you consider to be on the Mainstream’s left. Six were completely stumped. Two named Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker (ACU: 33 per cent); Weicker turns out to be on the group’s national advisory board.

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