Six Republican presidential aspirants for the 2000 GOP nomination went before a self-appointed group of far-right leaders in Washington yesterday who unveiled a 79-point litmus test for their support in the GOP primaries next year.
The exercise, which took place at the Washington Court Hotel throughout the day, illustrated the crop of Republican candidates who appear ready to pander to far right organizations in order to win the GOP nod, damaging their chances to win a general election if nominated.
"This was nothing more than a ceremony of kowtowing to a group that is dragging the Republican Party down in the eyes of the voting public," said Richard Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. "It was just a beauty contest to see which Republican presidential candidate could win the prize as the most unelectable."
The Committee to Restore American Values, which conducted the interviews, was represented by Michael Farris, the failed GOP candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor in 1993, Free Congress Foundation President Paul Weyrich, Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly, Rev. Paige Patterson of the Southern Baptist Convention, former Colorado Senator William Armstrong (R), and Christian Coalition Executive Director Randy Tate.
Those who appeared before the group were Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), failed 1996 GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes, anti-gay activist Gary Bauer, columnist Alan Keyes and Rep. John Kasich (R-OH). Former Vice President Dan Quayle spoke to the group by telephone.
Questions ranged from denying all forms of civil rights to gay Americans to litmus testing of all federal appointees. One question asked if the candidates "normally call games of chance 'gaming' or 'gambling'." Others pointed to presidential showmanship the group is eager to stage: "Would you place a creche on the White House lawn if ordered to refrain from doing so by the Supreme Court?" and "Would you support a removal of the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance?" and "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency.
"This strange questionnaire shows how out of touch the far right is with the American people," Tafel said. "As if "gaming versus gambling" the imagined threat of "In God We Trust" being removed from the dollar bill are burning issues that keep the American people awake at night. And by bowing to them, the Republican candidates have done a disservice to average American voters who want real issues addressed in the next election. It's an embarrassment."
Several other Republican candidates did not appear for screening. According to the Washington Post, Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) declined an invitation, former Governor Lamar Alexander (R-TN) claimed to have a scheduling conflict and former American Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole was "not invited." Senator John McCain (R-AZ) also did not attend.
Tafel cited a post-election poll commissioned by Log Cabin Republicans in November which found that most voters would be "more likely" to support a Republican presidential candidate in 2000 who "confronted the religious right rather than pandered to them." This included 53% of Republicans, 56% of Republican men, 53% of independent men, 52% of Perot voters and 51% of voters aged 18-29.
"Any Republican who wants to win the general election should just give this group a pass, and I applaud those who chose not to appear," Tafel said. "If you kowtow to the religious right, expect to lose the election. But if you refuse to pander to them and run instead on a positive, inclusive, wide-ranging vision for the country that reaches out to all Americans, you will be the next President of the United States."