Take the Next Right

POLITICS

AS CAPITOL HILL REPUBLICANS dismissed their vanquished foes late last week with a half-hearted round of "So long, fellas; we hate to see you go," the New and Revived Right began reshuffling its direct-mail listings for 1982. The arch-conservatives have claimed a healthy share of the credit for the GOP victory and now promise to redouble their assault on all liberals. Anyone left of Kemp-Roth, be he Democrat or Republican, had better head for cover, they warn...

Leaders of the conservative coalition--men like communications guru Richard Viguerie and Terry Dolan, director of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC)--believe they can afford a bit of arrogance. In their eyes this has been more than the year of Reagan, or of the reborn Republican Party. The "rising tide of the right" has crested just off shore, says Viguerie, and regardless of Republican help, it will soon wash away the "already dead liberal leadership."

The New Right's hit men say they will change little in their reckless search-and-destroy campaign program. And they unabashedly confess a predilection for issues of symbolic rather than substantive importance.

When Dolan goes after Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Donald Riegle of Michigan, and Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio in 1982, he will once again trundle out his Panama Canal Treaty posters, as he did this year in "targeting" Frank Church of Idaho. The young strategist defends his ploy: "That vote was a symbol of surrender, a recognition that American is not the number-one power in the world. American voters don't want to hear that. They reject that."

NCPAC has never disguised its over-the-shoulder technique. "We exploit the past records of incumbents," says Dolan, "showing that they have not responded to their constituents' needs and desires." Preparing for the execution in Idaho, Dolan said last year, "By 1980, there will be people voting against Church, without remembering why."

NCPAC's job will be far tougher in 1982 because most of the liberals on its blacklist are from densely populated states, which are harder to inundate with propaganda. Dolan succeeded this year in Idaho, South Dakota and Iowa--states with small and increasingly conservative constituencies--but he flopped in California, where Alan Cranston held onto his seat.

Viguerie probably already has the elves in his Falls Church, Va. workshop licking stamps for the 70 million letters he says he will mail on behalf of his conservative clients in 1982. Like other New Righters, he still does not worry about over-competition for the conservative contribution dollar.

"There are easily 70 million conservatives out there, and we only ask them to donate once a year. That's not unreasonable," says Viguerie, whose favorite theory is that his direct mail network bypasses the "Democratic-liberal media that bad-mouths us across the board." His missives are a means of communication and agenda-setting, not just money-grubbing, he points out.

At first glance, then, the shiny conservative command posts appear completely prepared for the next confrontation. Tactics seem set, troops mobilized. But the New Right persists in a tense love-hate relationship with the GOP, and, more important for 1982, the movement still distrusts Ronald Reagan. These complications may affect conservative campaign plans more than Viguerie or Dolan would like to admit.

Paul Weyrich, whose Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress advises NCPAC and other groups on strategy and fundraising, has helped define the conservative movement's stubborn policy toward the Republicans: "We don't owe them a damned thing."

Conceding that "everything depends on what Reagan does in the next year and a half," Weyrich says the New Right will tolerate "not a bit of compromise" from the president or from its own Congressional candidates. If Reagan follows through on his vows to cut taxes and social spending, raise the defense budget and toughen policy toward the Soviets, and "the Ted Kennedys" oppose him, then the conservative mandate is clear. Run behind the Reagan banner and tighten ties with the GOP. However, Weyrich warns, "It remains to be seen if we have a conservative White House, or a conservative Senate."

If the New Right must use Reagan as a scapegoat, says Weyrich, it will. Similarly, if Charles Grassley, Stephen Symms, Jeremiah Denton, or James Abdnor, the stars of the conservative Senate class of 1980, give in to the temptress Moderation during their first two years on the Hill, "we and they are in deep trouble," says Weyrich. At that point, Weyrich would "just look for new people for 1982, who are not connected to the others." He emphasizes the strength of the movement's ideological base: "The public apparently buys our position. Above all else we have to stick to that."

"The Reagan people and their friends on Capitol Hill are on the wrong track already, thinking that what we called for was a return to 'normalcy,'" says Howard Phillips, head of the Conservative Caucus, a low-profile organization that helps set the New Right's agenda and sees that it receives attention throughout the country.

Phillips realizes that he and his comrades "won't win most of the battles," but he insists that it is through active resistance that the conservatives can soften their foes for future clashes. He outlines four basic issues Reagan and his Congressional allies must address to satisfy the loyal legions of the far right: achieving "military superiority" over the Soviet Union before attempting further arms limitations talks; balancing the budget to avoid the 25-per-cent inflation Phillips sees looming in the near future; "reversing" our Latin American policy, giving less emphasis to human rights and more to resisting communist aggression; and, finally, cutting off funds to "left-wing groups that are improperly feeding at the public trough."

ALTHOUGH THE NEW RIGHT has lost many of its visible and obvious enemies--Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Birch Bayh, and Frank Church, among others--its leaders believe the cause will succeed on its own merits. Viguerie, who compares the 1980 election to that of 1932, says the conservative victory will be confirmed in four years, after more Republicans grab Hill spots, and perhaps control of the House of Representatives in 1982.

Two beliefs underpin the conservatives' long-term confidence in themselves. First, they agree that the liberal leadership is feeble, if not deceased. Viguerie describes them as "totally out of synch with the people; you try raising money to give away another Panama Canal." He predicts it will take the Democrats four to seven years to regain consciousness after the knockout of 1980, and adds that by then, Republicans will have a collective headlock on the opposition, while the New Right continues to rabbit punch in close.

Second, the conservatives say the media have misinterpreted "minor differences" among New Right groups, and exaggerated their failure to succeed in every encounter with the left. "If we get 80 per cent of what we want, and don't compromise our demands on the rest, we are doing well, and we can do that," says Viguerie. Weyrich cites a recent orientation session held in Washington for new conservative Congressmen, which was sponsored by 18 New Right groups. "Our bonds are only getting stronger as we work more with each other," he boasts.

As emotionally self-righteous as it now appears, the New Right has not proved itself as stable as its leaders claim it is. The movements cannot simply swear off the Reagan administration in 1982 if the Republicans don't leap quickly enough to the starboard. They will need Reagan's aid and the GOP's cooperation to solidify their opposition to liberals.

Some Republicans think the New Right has already over-extended itself. The mainstream of the GOP has sharply criticized NCPAC's meddling in many Senate races, and at least one high-ranking GOP insider brands the whole experience a "negative influence" on Republican campaign efforts. Joe Frumkin, a spokesman for the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, grits his teeth at Dolan's suggestion that NCPAC will oppose moderate Republicans in 1982. "We'll just have to stick it to them," Frumkin says.