In 1972, the platform celebrates Republicans’ use of wage and price controls to curb inflation, a doubling of federal spending on manpower training, and a tripling of help to minorities.
Even the party’s most conservative platforms avoid that word, which first appears in 1992. From the 1960s to 2008, platforms liberally criticize “liberals,” but “conservative” is used almost exclusively to refer to judges.
From the 1960s through the ’80s, each plank reads like a snapshot of its time, capturing the frustrations of the party or the pride of those in power, sometimes wryly needling Democrats, other years slamming them hard. But from the 1990s forward, the platforms exhibit a sameness of rhetorical style, a reflection of the cut-and-paste reality of the computer age, in which entire sentences appear over and over in successive planks.
Even as ritual expressions of solidarity with the Philippines or calls to abolish inheritance taxes survive each round of platform construction, the party line changes markedly on many issues.
For decades, Republicans emphasize federal funding for public transit. Then, in 1980, a turn: “Republicans reject the elitist notion that Americans must be forced out of their cars. Instead, we vigorously support the right of personal mobility and freedom as exemplified by the automobile.”
Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the GOP platform includes vigorous support for an equal-rights amendment to protect women. Then, in 1980, the party stalemates: “We acknowledge the legitimate efforts of those who support or oppose ratification.”
In the 1960s and ’70s, the party positions itself as a strong advocate for D.C. voting rights, in the Senate as well as the House. Then, in 1980, all mention of voting rights vanishes; the subject has not appeared since.
The first appearance of the abortion issue represents a party very much split between business-oriented moderates and religious conservatives: Abortion “is undoubtedly a moral and personal issue” on which Republicans disagree, the 1976 plank says.
Four years later, the issue has been settled: The GOP seeks a constitutional amendment protecting “the right to life for unborn children.” By 1992, the platform includes a call to appoint judges who oppose abortion.
Words such as “faith” and “heritage” rarely appear until the 1980s. (In 2000, religion plays an even larger role in the platform as the party goes beyond supporting prayer in public schools by seeking to allow them to post the Ten Commandments.)