The planks of the 2012 national Republican Party platform, formally adopted this week in Tampa, are full of splinters for most Minnesota Republican candidates and activists.
“I think the party platform is reflective of some members of the party. It’s certainly not indicative of where I am on every issue,” said Chris Fields, congressional candidate in Minnesota’s 5th district.
Fields says he is pro-life, anti-death penalty, believes in global warming and encourages tolerance and discussion on gay marriage.
“I think I’ve never met a candidate who’s agreed with every punctuation mark in every platform,” said Harry Niska, the Anoka attorney who chaired the platform committee for the Minnesota Republican Party.
Carleton College politic science professor Steven Schier put it this way: “The platform gives the delegates a chance to rant. They are ideologues, they have enthusiasm, they are consumed with exotic issues that no one else knows anything about.”
Variety of issues
The platform, a document that covers GOP’s positions on domestic, foreign and social policy, has received extra scrutiny because of the inclusion of support for a proposed human-life amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The plank implies, but does not say explicitly, such an amendment would ban abortions in all cases, including rape and incest. Similar language has been part of the Republican platform since 1984. But a Missouri congressman’s recent statement on “legitimate” rape has prompted pro-life and abortion rights activists to analyze every syllable in the plank for its implications.
But candidates, at least in Minnesota, seem unconcerned and unwilling to spend a lot of time talking about abortion.
“I believe that life begins at conception,” said Fields when asked whether he supports an absolute abortion ban. A survey of other Republican candidates shows some nuance on the sweep of an abortion ban, but all are declared pro-life.
“I think candidates do not talk about abortion because generally people have made up their minds,” said Schier. “Watch this fall and see if anyone talks about it.”
As for Democrats who say the issue reveals Republicans as anti-woman, Schier offers, “they may use it because they don’t have that many arrows in their quivers.”
The platform appears to harden the party’s views on other subjects like the United Nations, women in the military, homosexuality and monetary policy. Niska suggests that language changes are partly the result of the Republican National Committee policy that, every four years, the platform is re-written from scratch. (In Minnesota, the platform is amended every four years.)
“What happens is, you get a lot of people with a lot of ideas,” he said. “It’s not surprising that most platforms get that way.”
The platform is the only way that delegates can exert their influence, according to Schier. “In political science, it’s called an ‘expressive benefit,’ ” he said. “They have zero, less than zero, control over candidates.”
Still, that doesn’t stop the voters from associating a candidate with a party platform, much to the frustration of Fields, who says his Republican candidacy in the 5th District of Minneapolis is often met with hostility.
“They do it all the time,” he said. “They say you’re a Republican, so you must believe in X, Y and Z. The level of political prejudice is so thick, yet there are people who don’t even know you.”
Ultimately, though, these Minnesota Republicans say, they don’t fear association with the national Republican platform. Voters, they say, understand a platform’s purpose as a way to highlight differences between the activists of the Republican and Democratic parties. They say it is not a definitive description of an individual candidate, and they hope that the voters will agree.