If you've ever worked your heart out in a political campaign, you have to have at least a little sympathy for Peg Dolan. Dolan, a Fairfield, Conn., housewife has been working for months to promote the Senate candidacy of Prescott Bush Jr., a Republican who was seeking his party's nomination against incumbent and Reagan administration critic Lowell Weicker. Bush stunned both his supporters and adversaries when, after losing at the party's nominating convention but garnering enough votes to force a primary, he abruptly and against all his previous statements left the race. That leaves the nomination to Weicker, and whether he or his Democratic opponent, Rep. Toby Moffett, wins in November, the seat will still be held by an opponent of most of what the Reagan administration and the New Right stand for.
Peg Dolan is not your everyday volunteer, however, and the end of the Bush campaign symbolizes the problems the New Right is facing. She is the mother of White House speech writer Anthony Dolan and of Terry Dolan, the head of the National Conservative Political Action Committee. NCPAC, as it is known, struck terror in the ranks of liberals in 1980 when it conducted independent advertising campaigns against incumbent senators such as Frank Church of Idaho, George McGovern of South Dakota and John Culver of Iowa--all of whom, after long and successful political careers, were defeated. Fulminations came from liberal pulpits against NCPAC's strategy of running independent negative campaigns, and against specific distortions and untruths NCPAC propagated. But the fact is, in 1980 NCPAC seemed to be winning.
Now it's not. NCPAC has poured money into races against incumbent senators such as Paul Sarbanes of Maryland and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, with little to show for its efforts. Candidates favoring causes backed by the New Right have been losing at the polls. Republican primary voters have spurned anti-abortion candidates, for example, and picked nominees with moderate reputations, such as Millicent Fenwick in New Jersey and Pete Wilson in California. Democratic primary voters have rejected supporters of Reaganomics, such as Rep. Ron Mottl in suburban Cleveland and 1980 near- winner David DiCarlo in Erie, Pa.
The president and some Republicans in Congress are trying to win victories on the Hill for key New Right causes that were ignored in the first year of the administration. But their chances are problematic, and their tactics may well have demoralized the true believers, the Peg Dolans, whose enthusiasm has been central to New Right success.
The administration is busy seeking a constitutional amendment purporting to require a balanced budget. But believers in disciplined and orderly government budgeting must be terribly discouraged by the huge deficits the Reagan administration is running and which it promises for the indefinite future.
Sen. Orrin Hatch and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops are seeking a constitutional amendment that would permit states to ban abortions. But those who really believe abortion is murder must be terribly discouraged to see their leaders preparing to settle for a measure that would allow abortions in a great many states--and whose chances for adoption are not very great anyway.
Terry Dolan has admitted that NCPAC is not likely to win as many victories in 1982 as it did in 1980, and its allies are not likely to be successful either. From a Realpolitik point of view, therefore, it makes sense for New Right legislative strategists to settle, as they are prepared to settle on the abortion issue, for half a loaf. But popular political movements like the New Right are inspired not by Realpolitik considerations but by the enthusiasm of idealists. As the Reagan administration fails to accomplish sk.
Q: Iwhat these idealists want--and you can find a long list of such failures in the July Conservative Digest--the enthusiasm of the New Right constituency must be waning, fast
Kevin Phillips has suggested that this enthusiasm might seek new channels and fuel a kind of populist post-conservative politics quite different from what the Reagan administration has given us. Perhaps. But there is another alternative, and that is that a lot of the New Right constituency will just fade out of politics. There is a strong case to be made that the kind of goals New Right activists have been seeking --a government much diminished in size, but at the same time encouraging certain moral practices--is far enough out of line with what most Americans want that it cannot be obtained by democratic means, and the New Right, whatever some of its more hysterical liberal critics may think, has shown no interest whatever in non-democratic means of exerting power.
I think it is likely that a lot of people who have tried, and seem now about to fail, to change the course of our society will retire to cultivate their gardens, perhaps with the hope--and it may not prove a vain one--that the force of their ideas will accomplish what their temporarily successful political tactics failed to do.