Republicans find hope amidst wider disarray

WITH THE election of a new party chairman, the Republicans embarked at the weekend on the arduous task of bridging their destructive divide over abortion rights, and regaining the role of generator of ideas which helped sweep Ronald Reagan to the presidency, but which his successor George Bush fatally squandered.

Even among Washington cognoscenti, the name of Haley Barbour is not one which trips off the tongue. But as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) this 45-year-old Mississippi-born lawyer and lobbyist, once political director in the Reagan White House, will be architect, co-ordinator and chief public spokesman of the party's efforts to make sure Bill Clinton goes into history as a one-term president.

The mood in St Louis offered a spectacle of hope amid disarray. For the first time in years, an RNC election was contested and unpredictable: Mr Barbour, representing the party's centre-right, only won on the third ballot after the most obviously conservative of his four rivals dropped out.

But lifting everyone's spirits were the misfortunes of the first Democratic occupant of the White House for 12 years. President Clinton's travails may prove a dangerously seductive illusion. Right now they offer Republicans retrospective comfort for November's disaster. The uproar caused by Mr Clinton's plans to lift the ban on gays in the military, some Republicans argued here, hands the party a 'values' issue.

First though, it still has to put behind it the 'values' controversy which as much as anything contributed to its defeat in November - the gaping split over abortion rights which led to the conservatives' triumph in August, when they forced through a platform at the Houston convention all but outlawing abortion entirely.

Here, the outward mood was very different. Although an opponent of abortion, Mr Barbour seemed to espouse a more conciliatory stance. 'If we make abortion a test of being a Republican, we need our heads examined,' he told delegates, earning a warm endorsement from Ann Stone, leader of the embattled 'Republicans for Choice' pro-abortion rights pressure group.

But beneath the surface, conflict still boils. Hardliners in the 165-strong RNC listened in silence as the outgoing chairman, Rich Bond, warned that 'our job is to win elections, not cling to intolerances that zealots call principles'.

And at grass roots there is anything but unity, as moderates and orthodox conservatives battle with the 'religious right' for control of precinct, city and state Republican organisations. 'Rich Bond has advocated suicide for this party,' one anti-abortion activist aligned with Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition said on Saturday.

Mr Barbour now has to move fast. Although the party has three and a half years in which to rebuild before the next presidential campaign, vital congressional elections are much closer. In May, the party hopes to recapture the Senate seat held by the Treasury Secretary, Lloyd Bentsen. Next year 34 Senate seats are up for election, 22 of them Democrat- held and several distinctly vulnerable. Just seven Republican gains, by no means an impossibility, could give control of the Senate back to the party for the first time since the early 1980s.

The impact of Mr Barbour's arrival on the battle for the 1996 Republican nomination is unclear. Unquestionably it was a setback for former vice-president Dan Quayle, whose one-time senior aide, Spencer Abraham, was defeated in Friday's vote. But Mr Barbour vows he will not take sides. The current favourite remains the former housing secretary Jack Kemp. Apart from Mr Quayle, the former defense secretary Dick Cheney makes little secret of his plans to run in 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe

footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: MS Dynamics AX Developer (SSRS/ SSAS) - global business

£425 per day: Ashdown Group: A small business with an established global offer...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas