WASHINGTON — About the only politicians still taking the Republican right seriously are the GOP presidential candidates. Unfortunately for them, this winter's warm embrace to gain the nomination may seem like a stranglehold by next fall's election.
To an outside observer, it's amazing that the right still commands the slavish obedience of Republican aspirants. The Iran-Contra scandal, the failed Supreme Court nominations, the indiscretions of television evangelists and Ronald Reagan's negotiation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty have left the right thankful that 1987 is over. Their hope for resurrection lies in controlling the GOP presidential selection, and they are determined not to fail. Their ability to dominate legislative issues and party philosophy have forced the hopefuls to run to the right to accommodate this very special interest group. The INF Treaty, blessed by that born-yet-again peacenik, Ronald Reagan, provides the obvious example. Under starboard pressure, four of the six Republican candidates came out against the treaty. A fifth, Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, resembled a pretzel in his efforts to twist first one way then the other to please everyone, while Vice President George Bush had daggers pointed at him for his unsurprising support.
But other areas have put Republican backbones to the test--and they've bent rightward. Rep. Jack Kemp of New York declares he'd be the first on his block to pardon heroes Oliver L. North and John M. Poindexter, without even knowing what crimes he's excusing. Bush increasingly speaks of his religious convictions, which seem to intensify as his position in polls of critical states show signs of slippage. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV mentions Jeane J. Kirkpatrick as a possible running mate and scores points with editors of New Hampshire's Union Leader newspaper. And Dole refuses to take on Bush for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, not wanting to dredge up the embarrassment the righteous feel over a good deal gone publicly wrong.