DEMOCRATS aren't saying "good riddance" about Jeane Kirkpatrick.
The way things are, they don't dare say that about anybody. And in view of the massive defections of last November, the loss of one "born Democrat" who voted Republican in every election since 1976 seems manageable.
"I think we'll survive," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr.
Democrats were hardly shocked to hear that the erstwhile United Nations ambassador has reregistered in the party of Ronald Reagan. Her affair with the Republicans has been going on for some time, reaching its most flagrant phase in Dallas last August at the GOP Convention, where she excoriated her Democratic brothers and sisters to the wild delight of the audience.
The wedding, which was solemnized in the ballroom of the J.W. Marriott Hotel last Wednesday, seemed a bit of an anticlimax, even though First Daughter Maureen Reagan and Frank Fahrenkopf of the Republican National Committee were there to give it weight and tone.
As a Republican, Kirkpatrick may be, for the moment, less a torment than she was as a nominal Democrat. Now she is out of the closet, she ends the fiction of "bipartisanship."
As a national candidate in 1988, she could be formidable.
Right-wingers are turned on by her powerful rhetoric. Her Dallas speech drew the only applause less than Reagan's, and set off an ecstatic babble about a dream ticket of Rep. Jack Kemp and Kirkpatrick.
Their vision represents no truckling to the hated doctrine of feminism or any sign that the "gender gap" is gaining any ground with the true believers. It is Kirkpatrick's machismo that entrances them. From her first days at the U.N., when she dismissed the murdered missionaries in El Salvador as "political activists," to her hospitality to the chief of South African military intelligence she has shown them glimpses of the killer strain which they equate with greatness.
Yet Kirkpatrick seemed extremely put out when one of the reporters at the press conference ventured to ask about her political future. It seemed a natural enough query, since Maureen Reagan had just announced that the new acquisition would tour the country in behalf of GOP women candidates and to encourage other women to run for office.
But when asked about her own political plans, Kirkpatrick directed a withering glance at the interrogator, and said loftily, "I have no plans -- I am more interested in reading and writing and thinking about politics."
The reporter had the effrontery to persist. Was she ruling out a political future?
"I said what I meant and I meant what I said," she replied scathingly.
In denying the obvious, Kirkpatrick is following the lead of her new leader, Ronald Reagan. They are alike, too, in that upon abandoning the Democratic Party, they insist that the party has abadoned them. They also both think they take the household gods of their old faith with them. Reagan wrapped himself around FDR and John Kennedy. Kirkpatrick said she would vote for Harry Truman if he were alive.
Kirkpatrick has heretofore described herself as a "Hubert Humphrey Democrat." But at her conversion press conference, she reached out to include Scoop Jackson, one of her fellow founders of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority. She is uncomfortable about exclusive mention of Humphrey because it leads to talk about her new party's stand on civil rights, which is plainly the antithesis of his.
She will be a loyal Republican, she said, ending speculation that she would seek revenge on those administration officials who blocked her way to high office in the administration, post-U.N. She had hinted she might.
But Democrats need not hope she will start factional fights in her new party. They have a monopoly on civil war which may not end until more right-wing Democrats follow her across the Rubicon.
Kirkpatrick is not nearly as much of a threat to Democrats as their own dissidents. Their divisions on key matters of war and peace continue to embarrass and humiliate them. The House vote on MX is a case in point. Not only did it expose their differences, it provided the Republicans with campaign ammunition.
Chairman Les Aspin of the House Armed Services Committee, who was Reagan's chief ally in getting 21 more missiles, stooped, in the final moments of the debate, to telling his colleagues, amid boos and hisses, that a "no vote would in effect help the Soviets."
Aspin is now being used by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee as a club to beat fellow Democrats. The committee issued a broadside against one of its targets, Matthew Martinez (D-Calif.), quoting Aspin's aspersions on the patriotism of those who dare to disagree with Ronald Reagan.
That's worse than anything Jeane Kirkpatrick could do to a Democrat.