Bush and a Pro-Choice Veep: The Pros and Cons

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As if cued by the summer heat, the veepstakes have begun in earnest. George W. Bush, musing his decision in public and (mostly) private, is less than two weeks away from his coronation in Philadelphia. And as he walks the battle line between social conservatives and more moderate GOP members, one issue keeps popping up. No, it's not the coat and tie vs. open collar debate. It's abortion.

And as every Republican strategist knows, it's not going to go away, no matter whom Bush eventually chooses for a partner. The best he can hope for, most analysts agree, is to avoid wholesale disaster — and that means crafting a strategy acknowledging the delicacy of the debate, and choosing someone who doesn't represent a serious threat to the losing side.

Recent media reports have dangled Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge as a tantalizing choice for Bush; a Catholic with relatively moderate social views, Ridge comes from a critical state, he's well-liked among the party faithful and he has enjoyed a convivial cocktail or two in the company of the Texas governor. The catch? He's quietly pro-choice, in virtually the same way that Bush is pro-life. Both men hold their views on abortion firmly yet quietly, and have little interest in making the issue a centerpiece of their political career.

Ridge would appear to be the most logical choice if the Republicans decided this was an opportune moment to cross a line in the sand and incorporate the majority American view (abortion is a disturbing and unpleasant topic, but the procedure must remain legal) into the party platform. But conventional wisdom currently holds that neither Ridge nor another highly touted contender, New York governor George Pataki (also a muffled voice for choice), will be taking the applause in Philadelphia. Favor, these days, it seems, is shifting toward more conventionally conservative candidates.

Does a pro-choice vice presidential nominee represent a risk the GOP simply can't afford to take? Or have party leaders simply decided to leave that particular battle for another time? We won't know until the nomination is announced, but following are a few reasonably good arguments the party should take into account:

Pros of Naming a Pro-Choice Running Mate

  • Tempt fiscally conservative, socially moderate voters who were previously scared off by pro-life position

  • Gain unequivocal support of pro-choice groups within party

  • Showcase "new, inclusive" GOP, exorcise demons of 1992 convention

  • Attract younger voters (generally shown to be the most staunchly pro-choice bloc)

    Cons of Naming a Pro-Choice Running Mate

  • Lose pro-life activists, Catholic faithful and fundamentalists to Buchanan (may not be especially potent risk, but possibility exists for negating any benefits of Nader's siphoning of Gore supporters)

  • Horrify old-school conservatives and the Catholic Church, which could urge parishioners to stay home in November

  • Open Bush to accusations of pandering and inconsistency