WASHINGTON — Washington.
IF DEMOGRAPHY is destiny, Republicans can relax. But nothing is destiny and events are making Republicans tense. The new census means that eight states which have been tending Republican in presidential elections will gain 19 electoral votes. But suddenly there is no clear reason to vote Republican.
Two years ago, the Republican boast was peace and prosperity and a clear ideological profile. Today the nation is on the lip of war and the slope of recession and the party resembles the shapeless lump of 20 years ago, midway through Richard Nixon's first term.
Mr. Nixon's objectively liberal presidency pioneered racial quotas by federal policy (the ''Philadelphia Plan'' in the building trades), proposed a guaranteed annual income, established the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Health and Safety Administration, went into railroading (AMTRAK), tried to go into airplane manufacturing (SST), saw a Nixon Chief Justice (Warren Burger) lead a court in affirming forced busing and overturning 50 states' abortion laws. The Nixon administration imposed wage and price controls. No Democrat ever so shredded market principles in peacetime; it was the most radical intrusiveness by government since Prohibition.
In foreign policy, its obsessions were arms control and detente. Between 1968-69 and 1971-72, government spending soared 26 percent, non-defense spending rocketed 44 percent and defense spending declined 3 percent.
Like Mr. Nixon, who once said the nation needed a president for foreign policy but could run itself domestically, George Bush says he much prefers dealing with foreign rather than domestic problems. Hence the unseriousness of his domestic policy.
His constitutional flippancy is apparent in his endorsement of six amendments (concerning abortion, school prayer, balanced budgets, line-item veto, flag desecration, term limits), and his belief that he can launch a major war without congressional approval. This is part of a pattern.
Jon McGrath, whose name suggests Scottish ancestry, is a blue-eyed contractor and one-64th Cherokee. Hence government counts him as a privileged ''minority,'' a designation worth (so far) $19 million. What does Mr. Bush think of such pernicious nonsense? He opposes all the quotas (the 1990 civil rights bill) that he does not support (race-exclusive scholarships), just as he opposes all new taxes other than those (costing the average household $215 in 1991) he supports.
Is the picture clearer in foreign policy? No, even muddier.
Europe's radically safer situation allows vast U.S. forces to be shifted to the Gulf. Asked if those forces can come home after Desert Shield, Secretary of State James Baker is doubtful, because Europe ''wants'' them, and new arms agreements presume substantial U.S. forces there. Such wants and agreements are not sufficient reasons.
America's 25th largest school district in terms of student enrollment is in . . . Germany. It educates some of the 723,000 Americans in the 14 NATO countries. ''Our troops,'' writes Sen. Patrick Moynihan, ''will soon have been on the Rhine for half a century; that is the stuff of Roman legions.''
Is this administration, which supposedly saves its thinking for foreign policy, thinking about this?
When in early 1988 Spain said U.S. aircraft had to leave, NATO decided to build a new $800 million base in Italy. Much has changed since then, but not that project, which is, in part, your tax dollars.
Mr. Bush is perhaps not thinking about such things, so busy is he thinking about a New World Order. In its pursuit of that chimera, the Bush administration has become an active adversary of the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel. The administration voted for a U.N. resolution that declares, against history and law, that the West Bank and Jerusalem are ''Palestinian lands.'' This is just one more propitiation of what are called U.S. ''allies'' in the Gulf undertaking.
But the latest bulletin from the presidential viscera is hopeful. He has a ''gut'' feeling that Saddam Hussein will leave Kuwait rather than get his ''ass kicked.''
Try to imagine a thoughtful and truly conservative president -- say, Eisenhower -- talking like that. And try to imagine a reason, other than demography, for Republican jauntiness.