Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election for four main reasons. He was a superb candidate. He had an unpopular opponent. The country was ready for a change from the big-government big-spending policies that had driven us to wrack and nearly to ruin. And, finally, he attracted two new and substantial blocks of voters to the Republican ranks: disgruntled Democrats and conservative Christians.
Many conservative Christians had not voted in elections until their ministers recently urged them to register and vote. Lou Harris has determined that two-thirds of Reagan's 8.5-million- vote margin came from born-again Christians who supported Jimmy Carter in 1976.
The elections of 1982 and 1984 will depend on Reagan's ability to mobilize these two groups again. To do so, he must begin paying serious attention, instead of just giving lip service, however eloquent, to the things they care about. That is why many conservatives are concerned about the large numbers of "non-Reaganites"-- people who do not share Reagan's conservatism --in the administration.
Some Reagan aides have said they welcome this criticism from the right because it makes them look more reasonable and moderate. This is the same mistake President Carter's aides made when they alternately patronized and ignored the left until they needed it in 1980.
Other Reagan aides point out that many of the so-called "non-Reaganites" are in fact traditional conservative Republicans. But that is exactly the point. Reagan isn't a traditional conservative Republican. He never has been.
He has never been a part of the Ivy League-Wall Street-Big Business-Big Law Firm kind of Republicanism that used to be synonymous with political conservatism. The great political irony of the 1980s is that many of the "traditional conservative Republicans" have become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. At home, by temperament and by financial self-interest, they are more concerned with managing the chaos of big government than with fundamentally changing it. And abroad, they have, in George Will's tragic and memorable phrase, come to love commerce more than they loathe communism.
To be re-elected, the president must earn the support of those Americans who really care about forced busing and quotas and tuition tax credits and the shocking crisis in our school systems and affirmative action and stopping the epidemic of crime and drugs and appointing strong judges and other issues like these.
But these issues are not the usual topics of conversation on the country club terraces or in the corporate executive suites where the traditional conservative Republicans gather.
Those of us conservatives who support Reagan and want him to run again and win will need at least some help from within the White House. Conservatives today have a duty to Reagan not to remain silent--as many conservatives unfortunately did when Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford began moving leftward.
But the signs are not encouraging. The White House pollster, Richard Wirthlin, recently told reporters that the social issues pressed by conservatives are "no-win issues" for the administration. This is typical traditional Republican strategy, which assumes the right wing has nowhere else to go and that victories therefore lie in the direction of the center and the moderate left. After all, they might say, look how Ike did it.
There is no doubt that Eisenhower enjoyed a stunning landslide in 1956--while the rest of the Republicans went right down the tubes. But Reagan's staff should be made to memorize the disastrous numbers from the 1954, 1956 and 1958 congressional elections. If these strategists are planning to give us Dwight D. Reagan, they should be asked to resign.
Even more instructive is what happened to Carter. In 1976, he dined, if not wined, his conservative Christian supporters while he was a candidate. Then he cut them off cold. Few, if any, were invited to the White House until he needed their help again in 1980. It is not surprising that they felt no stake in his re-election.
If all their efforts in 1980 only served to give them James Earl Reagan, they will surely sit out the 1982 and 1984 elections. Since Reagan's election he has had time to socialize with Warren Beatty and David Rockefeller but no time for even one private meeting or meal with Jerry Falwell or any of the other Christian leaders who were so pivotal to his election.
Just last Friday Reagan had a perfect opportunity to help this situation. A number of religious leaders, including some of his strongest supporters, gathered in the Cabinet Room for the signing of the National Day of Prayer resolution. Several of them--including the Rev. Pat Robertson of The 700 Club, Jim Bakker of the PTL Club, and Dr. Francis Schaeffer, one of the best-selling Christian authors--were placed on the opposite side of the Cabinet table from the president. The result was that not only were they excluded from the official photographs of the ceremony, but Reagan left the room without even taking the opportunity to shake their hands and greet them.
It is just plain insensitive to ignore such major conservative religious leaders. And do you imagine for one minute that Lane Kirkland or the head of the Urban League would have been placed at such a sanitized distance? Whoever made those arrangements and prepared the president's briefing should be replaced. Reagan should appoint some politically astute conservatives to his senior staff--some people who remember his roots and can begin to restore his strongest political base.
Much has been made of Reagan's admiration for Franklin D. Roosevelt, who forged the most powerful political coalition in America's history, and was the ultimate practitioner of confrontation politics.
FDR was a patrician populist. He was strong and bold and audacious and radical and charming--just like Ronald Reagan. So there is the model for 1982 and 1984. There is nothing wrong with Reagan's administration that a good strong infusion of philosophical Reaganites and a crash course in FDR's confrontation politics and coalition building wouldn't cure.