Reagan, congressional Republicans display unified front; President fights political brush fires at the White House; GOP's 'Governing Team Day' shows new togetherness in minority party
It's rare when longtime Washington watchers -- who tend to feel they've "seen it all" -- describe a political publicity event as "fascinating" and "highly unusual and important."
But Monday's unity meeting of Republicans here -- symbolized by Monday's media-aimed photo session on the Capitol steps for the 1980 presidential ticket of Ronald Reagan and George Bush plus some 288 GOP congressional officeholders and seekers -- has struck Washington veterans as something new under the political sun.
With the exception of the Eisenhower elections of 1952 and '56. Republican congressional candidates have not, in the post-Depression era, been so willing to link themselves to the GOP presidential ticket and the national party banner. There are holdouts, however, such as US Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. of Maryland, who is avoiding identification with either the GOP or Mr. Reagan in his re-election bid.
For their part, Republican presidential candidates -- as members of the minority party with the need to recruit independent and Democratic support to win -- have long sought to run above the party label. So the symbolic, run-as-a-team unity event holds election risks for Mr. Reagan, most observers agree -- a risk Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford declined to take.
But the plain-sight GOP linkup could also help further Republican National Committee chairman Bill Brock's labors to rebuild the party as a force in American political life -- in effect reversing the trend in recent years toward GOP factions. This could help a Reagan White House in working with Congress, some experts say, especially if the GOP can reduce or even overcome the Democratic majority.
The Brock party-rebuilding effort is the second such Republican undertaking since World War II, says Austin Ranney, American political process expert. The first -- in the mid-1960s under party chairman Ray Bliss created a large, efficient GOP research staff and party machinery by the time of Richard Nixon's successful 1968 run. This was followed by the post-Watergate GOP doldrums in the mid-1970s.
The Republican unity display and party- building effort contrast strikingly with the Democrats in 1980.
"The Democratic National Committee is now nothing but another arm for the re-election of Jimmy Carter," says Thomas E. Mann, University of virginia political scientist and Congress expert. "The DNC is devoting nothing of significance -- in resources or concern -- for offices other than the presidency. It was the same in 1976."
"Bill Brock has been the greatest party chairman in recent years, the best since Bay Bliss took over after the Goldwater debacle," says Mr. Mann, who has himself participated in Democratic Party reforms. "For once he has a party doing something besides electing a president -- building a Republican network through congressional and state offices."
"Yes, it's a media event," concedes Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia, one of the organizers of the "Governing Team Day" on Capitol Hill, which drew about 150 Senate and House challengers (out of some 200), 23 Republican senators (of 41 incumbents), and 115 Republican House members (of 160).
But it's also an attempt at accountability, committing Republican office seekers to five Specific goals for a Reagan-GOP Congress team to be judged by, Mr. Gingrich says. He sees this contrasting with "alienation" between Carter and the Democratic Congress, "which attack and blame each other."
The Republican 1980 pledges, endorsed by GOP congressional leaders and the Reagan- Bush campaign, include:
* Substantial cuts in the amount of money Congress spends on itself. The number of subcommittee -- 27 new ones since 1974 -- wuld be reduced. The amount Congress has spent on its affairs -- for buildings, health services, staff -- will climb from $1 billion in 1978 to $1.3 billion in 1982 unless curbed, the GOP notes.
* As an anti-inflationary pledge, much of the estimated $34 billion in "waste" government spending would be curbed.
* Individual income taxes would be cut 10 percent in 1981, and incentives for saving and investment boosted. (This is more modest than Mr. Reagan's three-year, 10 percenta- year tax-cut proposal).
* A program to encourage private investment, creating permanent jobs, especially in the inner city. This pledge reflects the "enterprise zones" concept of Rep. Jack Kemp (R) of New York. But where Mr. Kemp would push tax incentives in depressed areas, the GOP pledge reflects Reagan's preference for regulatory exemptions -- steps like modification of minimum wage laws to stimulate the local economy.
* Restoration of a "margin of safety" -- a Reagan term -- in defense, to make "foreign policy credible" and provide "peace and stability" in the world.
The linkage between the Reagan campaign and congressional Republicans "may, in the long run, be helpful for the GOP," says Mann. "In an electoral sense, it's part of a coordinated effort to breathe some life into the Republican Party itself. . . .
"But in the immediate, narrow political sense for 1980, it could hurt Reagan by reminding people he stands with the Republican Party. . . ."