A Pro-Choice Running Mate for George W.?

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With August's Republican National Convention looming on the horizon, George W. Bush must feel like a kid in a candy store as he mulls over a seemingly endless list of possibilities for a vice-presidential nominee. And according to recent reports, Bush is casting a wide net in his quest for a running mate; at least a couple of the potential candidates, Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Ridge and New Jersey's Governor Christine Todd Whitman, are firmly established in the pro-choice camp. Ridge is opposed to late-term abortions, but supports abortion rights within the parameters of Keystone State law (24-hour waiting period, parental notification, 24-week limit). Whitman, meanwhile, is staunchly pro-choice.

These developments have some Beltway types doing a double take. Can Bush, only recently anointed as the golden boy of the religious right, afford to cozy up to this wing of his party? The answer, so far, is a qualified yes. In fact, some polls now show Bush with as much as a 10-point lead over Vice President Al Gore, thanks in large part to the Texas governor's skillful disengagement from the orbit of Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition, forces he was pressed into befriending by the insurgency of primary opponent John McCain. But whether he could successfully go from a mere flirtation with the left of his party to the embrace that would come with the selection of a pro-choice running mate is up for question.

Apart from the anger he would engender among religious conservatives — something he may be able to discount due to their lack of alternatives — it may be hard to shake off accusations of political expediency and hypocrisy. After all, the moral absolutism of the pro-life position is difficult to square with the cold-hearted strategizing involved in picking a partner with opposing views. Then again, Bush has been careful to keep a somewhat fuzzy definition of his pro-life position. So don't be surprised to find him reverting to the kind of language he adopted prior to being reelected governor of Texas in late 1998: "The United States Supreme Court has settled the abortion issue: there will be abortion in Texas and the rest of the United States," declared his official manifesto at the time. "I believe the best public policy is to encourage fewer abortions through strong adoption laws and by sending a clear abstinence message to our children." Having a pro-choice running mate may not be such a hard choice after all.