NEW ORLEANS--There are some Republicans here who would like to carve Ronald Reagan's image into Mt. Rushmore along with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
They credit him with stopping the spread of liberalism, with restoring family values and rebuilding the military. They say Ronald Reagan is the man who made it respectable to be a Republican again, and more importantly, to be a conservative.
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell says the president "made conservatism respectable." McConnell said he remembered going to school back in the days when conservatives were not respected on the nation's campuses. "When I was in college more than 20 years ago, we had one professor who called himself a conservative, and he had to eat lunch by himself," McConnell said.
A party that once fiercely debated ERA and abortion, now routinely approves platforms endorsing the social conservative agenda, without heated platform debate on the convention floor.
Eight years ago, it would've been unthinkable that a fundamentalist television evangelist would be delivering major addresses during prime time at a Republican convention. Reagan helped changed that.
But if Reagan extended his hand to the party's social conservatives, these party leaders say, the party's new task is to diversify itself--and George Bush is the man to do it.
Pierre DuPont, who sought the GOP presidential nomination before bowing out this spring, said that people with opposing views can still fit in the GOP. "There's room in this party for everyone," he says.
The Reagan coalition included Republicans and conservative Democrats, white ethnic voters, Hispanics--especially Cubans--and evangelicals. But for the most part, Blacks did not participate in the Reagan Revolution. Only 3 percent of delegates to the 1984 GOP Convention were Black, and only 4 percent of delegates here in New Orleans are Black. Reagan's civil right stance was sharply criticized by Black organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League.
Republicans insist Bush will make a greater effort to include Black Americans. Bush has spoken to the NAACP, and sent Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) to the Urban League's annual conference. He invited Coretta Scott King to the convention, and she sat with the vice president's wife. Benjamin Hooks, the NAACP's executive director, spoke from the GOP podium--in prime time--and Black Republicans from Maryland Senate candidate Alan Keyes '72 to former Transportation Secretary William Coleman were presented to the nation.
The key word on Tuesday was "inclusion." Keynote speaker Gov. Tom Kean (R-N.J.) said that Democrats were telling gays, women and environmentalists to "just shut up" until after the election. Kean called these tactics divisive and pledged that Republicans "will not divide people, we will bring America together."
DuPont said that "more and more Black Americans are beginning to recognize that they receive tokenism from the Democratic party." DuPont even went so far as to suggest that the Rev. Jesse Jackson become a Republican. "He's pretty good at pointing out the need. We Republicans are awfully good at providing some solutions to those needs."
And the convention hall erupted when Jack Kemp said. "If we do our job right, I predict that by 1992--the start of George Bush's second term--one-quarter of our party will consist of Black, Hispanic and Asian-Americans, who will see in our party the best hope of a better life for themselves and their families."
Bush has already begun to distance himself from some of Reagan's more conservative positions, and party leaders expect him to show concern about the environment and education in a way that the party's right wing never has.
But Bush's support for inclusion does not please all Republicans. Some worry that he will compromise party principles in an attempt to sway moderate voters. But these conservatives concede, in 1988, if Bush were to sway the party back towards its Rockefeller image, they have nowhere else to turn.