These are trying times for some Reagan conservatives in Washington. In the House, Reagan efforts to win military aid for Nicaraguan rebels were slapped down. In the Senate, higher budgets for the military were defeated. Abroad, the White House embargo against Nicaragua has won little support.
Is the tide of Reagan conservatism ebbing? Or are conservatives again on the verge of new victories even greater than in President Reagan's first term?
Conservatives in Washington have mixed views. One Republican close to the White House says he is glum about the slow start the President has made on the budget, on tax reform, and on some key foreign policy issues.
Others, however, argue that great things lie just ahead. Terry Dolan, chairman of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), scoffs at those who worry about the recent setbacks on Capitol Hill. ``Utter, unmitigated nonsense,'' he calls it, adding:
``Ronald Reagan is such an incredible political figure that he can regain the political momentum tomorrow if he wants to.''
Mr. Dolan relishes the pitched, partisan battles now being waged on Capitol Hill. He says, ``Conservatives should be very encouraged. Losing the contra battle [for $14 million in military aid to Nicaraguan rebels] was good for this administration. Now they have the perfect excuse to go back and say, `This is shameful. This Congress voted for communist control of Central America.' ''
Dolan and his allies prefer a head-on clash with liberals on Capitol Hill. For years they smoldered with disgust over the compromise and accommodation approach favored during the first Reagan term by White House chief of staff James Baker III. The new chief of staff, Donald Regan, does a much better job of listening to conservative views, Dolan says.
Even so, others with conservative credentials are less happy with what is happening in Congress. Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation worries that recent losses on the budget could be ``a missed opportunity of major dimensions.''
Mr. Butler says that this is the time for pruning unnecessary programs, sending programs back to state and local governments, and turning other federal activities over to the private sector.
If that cannot be done now, in the wake of Reagan's 49-state victory in 1984, when can it be done? he wonders. ``Certainly 1986 looks even less promising due to the elections coming up that year.''