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Hard to Please

Whether it's moderate Republicans or conservative Republicans, the media isn't happy about them.

4:00 PM, Sep 2, 2004 • By RACHEL DICARLO
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THE SPEAKERS at the GOP convention this week agree on two things: that the war on terror trumps all other issues, and that President Bush would wage a stronger, more determined war than John Kerry.

And almost all support the traditional Republican domestic agenda of cutting both taxes and spending. But the Republicans proved that they are comfortable enough in their own skin to feature some speakers who don't completely toe the party line on social issues.

Although they didn't talk about it on stage at Madison Square Garden, two headliners this week, Rudolph Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both fiscal conservatives, support gay marriage and at least some abortion rights. (The Democrats didn't trot out any pro-lifers or anti-gay marriage speakers at their convention a few weeks ago.)

As Schwarzenegger put it at the end of his speech, "Maybe, just maybe, you do not agree with this party on every single issue. I say to you tonight that I believe this is not only okay, but that is what is great about this country. Here we can respectfully disagree and still be patriotic, still be American and still be good Republicans."

You'd think the television media would respect the Republicans for their broad range of viewpoints, since normally the press loves diversity. But some anchors and commentators wanted to make sure that viewers understood that the social moderates don't really represent real Republicans. Some commentary highlights:

On the CBS Evening News Monday night, Dan Rather offered this: "They've put forth Rudolph Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that's not what the party really is. The party's far to the right of that."

There seemed to be an obsession with Schwarzenegger's moderate credentials on Chris Matthews's Hardball. When Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball, checked in with NBC correspondent Chip Reid Tuesday night on the floor of the convention, Reid made sure to start off by "getting to one of the real tensions . . . with Arnold Schwarzenegger" by interviewing a Florida delegate.

"So you have somebody who is the primary speaker tonight who vigorously disagrees with you on [gay marriage and abortion] and he's the person who's going to be talking to you tonight. How do you feel about that?" he asked a Florida delegate.

"Well, we can disagree. I think Arnold will give a great speech. We need him as governor of California," she answered. "He's a good Republican."

He wasn't satisfied. "You say he's a good Republican, but don't you define good Republicans by how they stand on those issues, like abortion and gay marriage. . . . you seem to be giving him slack because he's a Republican."

Later in the show Matthews asked Republican senator Trent Lott if he thought his party could be accused of "cross-dressing" because "you're putting on a moderate image here in New York with Schwarzenegger."

On ABC's Nightline Tuesday night, Chris Bury described Schwarzenegger as "out of step with the party line," and wondered, "what was he doing here on center stage tonight?"

Afterward, ABC anchor Peter Jennings offered this quick voiceover analysis of Schwarzenegger's speech: "Powerful testimony from the governor of California for the president of the United States, the delivery of a great actor, a message that in a very general way millions of Americans identify with."

If the Republicans had marched out Charlton Heston, Trent Lott, and Rick Santorum, they'd be accused of holding a radical, right-wing, divisive, and mean-spirited convention. Since they haven't, obviously they must be hiding who they really are. They just can't win.

Rachel DiCarlo is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.