Mixed election results make future of New Right agenda unclear
In January, Tim LaHaye, a television evangelist and a prolific, best-selling author, is moving the headquarters of the American Coalition for Traditional Values (ACTV) from San Diego to Washington, D.C.
''We're not going to make the same mistake after this election that we made after the 1980 election,'' he says. ''We all just went back to our ministries and forgot about politics.''
Dr. LaHaye, cofounder of the Moral Majority and chairman of ACTV, says he's not about to forget politics this year.
The New Right - a coalition of populist conservatives and fundamentalist Christians - made inroads to power in this week's election, but woke up Wednesday morning somewhat disappointed.
Their candidate, President Reagan, won big, but conservatives running in US Senate and House races made a less impressive showing. The GOP-controlled Senate slipped back toward the center, under firmer control of Republican moderates. The House gained nine or 10 aggressive new activists for conservative issues, but the Democrats remain solidly in control.
For four years now, the New Right has seen only token progress on its cherished social issues, in spite of a President who espouses them. The religious conservatives tend to see an activist conservative President thwarted by a liberal Congress. The secular conservatives tend to see a sincere but passive President foiled by the moderate political pragmatists on his own staff.
Either way, the New Right was counting on a much more conservative Congress to ignite the flame on New Right issues during the second Reagan term. They got only enough aggressive new conservatives to create brighter, hotter sparks.
The New Right agenda includes ''family,'' ''morality,'' and ''biblical'' issues: banning abortion; voluntary, audible prayer in public schools; tax credits for private school tuition; military superiority over the Soviet Union; and fiscal conservatism. To further this agenda, LaHaye is now turning his attention to building a grass-roots network of activists through ACTV, the 10 -month-old political organizing arm of the religious right, including the Moral Majority.
LaHaye says his present calling is to ''raise the consciousness of Christians'' to become political activists. He plans to recruit articulate Christian conservatives and groom them for government service at all levels.
Reagan's short coattails were especially disappointing to Paul Weyrich, a leading strategist from the secular side of the New Right. On election day, before the results were in, he spoke expectantly of a new crop of aggressive young New Right activists in the mold of Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R) of New York.
''Congress is where the real excitement will be in the coming period,'' he said.
After the election, Mr. Weyrich found GOP gains to be fewer than he had expected, but he did cite a list of bright, new, conservative lights coming to the House - all Republicans - topped by Bill Cobey of North Carolina, Joe Barton and Bo Boulter of Texas, Bob Dornan of California, and Rick McIntyre of Indiana.
''Their 'good guy' list did pretty well,'' says John Buchanan, chairman of People for the American Way, a group that opposes the New Right. ''I would call it a substantial victory for the New Right on the presidential level and a partial victory on the congressional level.''
Mr. Buchanan, a Southern Baptist minister and moderate Republican, lobbies and raises money to counter the religious right.
But both Buchanan and Weyrich agree that the Senate is now firmly in the hands of GOP moderates. In Weyrich's view, the new Senate will present ''a grave problem for Ronald Reagan.''
What kind of an asset Ronald Reagan himself is to the New Right is not crystal clear. ''I've always had a reasonably high level of confidence in the President,'' says Weyrich, ''but not in the people around him.'' He adds: ''When I help to design a strategy, I count the White House as at best neutral, at worst as an obstacle.''
Weyrich, director of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, calls the Reagan landslide ''a massive repudiation of the old-style, welfare-state politics of Walter Mondale.'' Many congressional Democrats, he says, won their races only by ''running away'' from their party and campaigning as conservatives.
LaHaye says: ''The real issue is that we have the liberal (news) media protecting the liberal candidates.''