The RNC Veers Right

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The Republicans' so-called 'big tent' looks to be shrinking again. A small but intense faction of the GOP is ready to stake the party's future on a very low-traction issue: partial-birth abortions. A proposal to deny party campaign funds to candidates who refuse to support a total ban on the controversial procedure will await RNC delegates when they arrive in Palm Springs, Calif. for their winter meeting on Jan. 15.

Sponsor Tim Lambert, a Republican National Committee member from Texas, tried to compare the issue to the party's refusal to support ex-Klan member David Duke. "Is the party obligated to support a nominee of the party regardless of their position?" Lambert said in an interview. "If we go back to the race issue I don't think we'd be having this discussion."

But though the issue is held dear by a few Republicans in Congress, late-term partial-birth abortions are in practice very rare and usually performed for the mother's safety. In political terms, supporting a ban has never won an election for the GOP. But it could lose them for the party's social moderates. New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman, who vetoed a ban, would not be governor without RNC funding. Elbow enough Whitmans out of the tent, and the GOP will be kissing off the soccer moms for good.