The End of the Reagan Revolution

CAL THOMAS

November 06, 1992|By CAL THOMAS

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- The Reagan revolution ended Tuesday, not because it was overwhelmed by a superior army of counter-revolutionaries, but because the fight had gone out of its soldiers, and its heir, George Bush, did not truly believe in it.

Four years ago, Jack Kemp forecast Election Day 1992 when he told NBC's John Chancellor, ''If George Bush is elected president of the United States, the Reagan revolution will be over.''

Ronald Reagan's biggest mistake was caving in to pressure from the Republican ''moderates'' and selecting Mr. Bush as his running mate. Mr. Reagan is said to be seriously concerned about his legacy and the undoing of the economic and judicial reforms he began. But in keeping with his ''11th commandment'' never to speak ill of a fellow Republican, he has refused all requests for post-election interviews and a spokeswoman tells me that he probably will never do another one. His silence speaks volumes.

Conservative Republicans didn't lose Tuesday. Moderates did. They will blame the ''far right'' and its visibility at the Houston convention for torpedoing GOP political hegemony, ignoring that was the conservative presence and their ''social issues'' in the 1980s that made victory possible. It was the moderates' embarrassment with those issues that made defeat inevitable.

In his new book ''Nofziger,'' former Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger writes that, like Mr. Kemp, he foresaw disaster in the selection of George Bush as Mr. Reagan's running mate: ''Reagan's hand-picked successor, George Bush, has --ed whatever hopes many of us had that he would carry on the Reagan legacy.''

Libertarian Republicans, like columnist William Safire, who worked for Richard Nixon, says the GOP convention ''was even more off-putting than the San Francisco Democratic convention of 1984 -- the one that celebrated liberal pressure groups and led to the Reagan landslide.'' Mr. Safire blames Pat Buchanan for declaring ''religious war'' in Houston.

The Republican defeat was not the fault of Pat Buchanan or Pat Robertson or any other ''zealot.'' If the social issues are what dragged Mr. Bush down, why is it that his approval ratings increased whenever he, and especially Vice President Quayle, focused on ''family values''?

RTC No, the fault lies at the top. George Bush failed to convince enough people that he has a political, economic and moral center and sufficient convictions for leading the nation in each of these critical areas. I recall asking him last March to name three issues on which he would not compromise. He mentioned ''the (( crime package,'' his America 2000 education proposals and, ''oh yes, I'm pro-life.'' It sounded like an afterthought.

Republicans are now faced with the difficult job of rebuilding their party, not on a solid foundation, but on an ash heap of their own making. They don't have the White House or the Congress, and the press, which led cheers for Messrs. Clinton and Gore, won't help.

The battle will initially be fought between ''moderate'' Republicans, like Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and California Gov. Pete Wilson, and the party's conservative wing. Republicans will not regain the White House and they have little hope of new congressional victories if they abandon the moral issues that are uniquely theirs.

President Reagan came to power on promises to rebuild the nation's defenses and stand up to Soviet communism; lower the tax burden; curtail the unchecked power of a liberal Supreme Court, which was perceived as caring more about protecting the rights of criminals than of average Americans, and do something about the moral deterioration of the country, which included abortion on demand, pornography and drug abuse.

President Bush always seemed uncomfortable with the Reagan agenda. When he finally began to address the social issues, he seemed insincere and people sensed it. By then sufficient numbers had already been lured away by the slickness of Bill Clinton and Al Gore and their promises of something for everybody without a cost to anybody, except those earning over Republicans like Jack Kemp, Bill Bennett and Dan Quayle will need to re-create their party and form a government in exile. They and other conservatives will have to repair their party's base and offer a new vision for the next century (or perhaps the next election if Bill Clinton stumbles badly, which is a real possibility). A Clinton failure is their best short-term hope of regaining what the soon-to-be former President Bush has just needlessly lost. Absent that failure, it could be a long wait out in the cold for the GOP.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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