The Rose Garden is budding: happy signs of spring for President Clinton and his new Democratic administration. Meanwhile, the Republican party, snared on some thorny issues, is struggling for its very soul.

That struggle hit the headlines earlier this year, when outgoing Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Rich Bond bitterly blamed the Religious Right for the party’s November defeat. Pointedly referring to abortion, Bond warned, “Our job is to win elections, not cling to intolerances that zealots call principles.”

Conservative Christians were hardly comforted by Bond’s successor, Haley Barbour. Though personally opposed to abortion, Barbour told the group: “We cannot confuse principle with intolerance. We’re not going to be exclusionary.” He was applauded by Ann Stone, leader of Republicans for Choice, who had earlier compared GOP conservative Christians to Nazis and accused them of “moral imperialism.”

Later Barbour told CNN he did not mean “to exclude anybody, the Christian Coalition or [other] conservative Christians. That [constituency] is a big asset to our party. They need to be welcomed under our big tent.” (Indeed, in the eighties, evangelicals were the GOP’s biggest voting bloc.)

Nonetheless, many Christians are reading the fine print on the big tent flaps: Your votes are welcome; your morality is not. As Republican groups strategize for the 1994 and 1996 races, many of them are quietly erasing key social issues from the agenda. Party leaders are reaching out to pro-choice Republicans with one hand and toward gay-rights groups with the other—and they just don’t have a hand left for religious conservatives.

“Conservatism is being redefined,” says one Republican insider. “Now they’re saying that real conservatism ...

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