As the Republican Party gets next year's presidential campaign under way, the strategy seems to be to divide and conquer in the areas where the president is weakest_among women and with minorities. Just as these groups are showing signs of seriously recognizing they have more in common than what divides them, the administration seems bent on playing up to some -- women and Hispanics -- while writing off others -- balcks sand other minorities.
National leaders such as Eleanor Smeal, former president of the National Organization of Women and her successor, Judy Goldsmith, have joined blacks in speaking in support of coalitions among minorities and against the Reagan administration's policies which attack affirmative action. Jesse Jackson has also talked of the importance of building a coalition of women, blacks and Hispanics, and has made such overtures to San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, an important Hispanic leader.
The most recent evidence of a divide-and-conquer strategy was last weekend's lavish overture to women in a speech by Edward J. Rollins, the president's chief political adviser. He referred to the "gender gap,"--the increasing tendency of women to vote for Democratic party candidates--as the key to the l984 elections. Rollins spoke the obvious; that a "gender gap," threatened to block Reagan's reelection chances.
In another example recently, the administration played up to Hispanics as a key to Republican election strategy. In early May, President Reagan took a swing through southwest Texas, celebrating Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican patriotic holiday. He promised Mexican Americans that he would take steps to help Mexico during its economic crisis, and talked of visiting Mexico later this year. If women and minorities find themselves fighting over which group is going to take the credit for helping a presidential candidate win, as well as which group should share the rewards and influence that campaign allies are due, dissension could break up what is now a growing coalition.
The evidence, so far, suggests that women are too smart to be easily swayed. Several days after Rollins' speech in Indianapolis, Judy Goldsmith pledged her organization's total effort to defeating Ronald Reagan and to mobilizing and activating the women's vote against him. She understands that policy issues at stake, such as equity for women in the workplace and justice.
Still, the Republicans are trying hard to woo women. Since the defeat of ERA, some Congressmen are trying to help women on a law-by-law basis. Many Republicans support the new Economic Equity Act. Republican women in the House are making headway in their pleas to spare nutrition, day care and displaced homemakers from budget cuts. President Reagan made back-to-back appointments of Elizabeth Dole and Margaret M. Heckler to his Cabinet. And, his administration entered a Supreme Court lawsuit against pension plans that pay women lower rates than men. But Reagan policies deliver another message to blacks and other minorities. Budget cuts, the support of tax exemptions for schools that discriminate, the firing of three members of the Civil Rights Commission, the hesitation to enforce fair housing laws and strong opposition to busing and to affirmative action all suggest to minorities that Reagan doesn't care.
His handling of the Civil Rights Commission even turned off black Republicans and conservatives.
Such policies have prodded blacks to the ballot boxes. Wilson Goode's likely win in Philadelphia and Harold Washington's victory in Chicago are indicative of this power. The NAACP is planning an all-out voter registration drive in the Northeast, Midwest and South, and Jackson is touring the South urging voter registration.
At about the time Reagan was in Texas, Vice President Bush told reporters that he didn't think the Republicans or Reagan could capture any part of the growing black vote for '84.
Blacks are not trying to isolate themselves or simply criticize. Bush, for instance, was invited to speak to several black groups. His wife, Barbara, was honored by one.This administration should reach out, too. A better strategy than divide and conquer is to seek accord with all groups, with the fringe benefit of a political atmosphere that is less hostile and more hopeful.