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Unformatted text preview: 64 Politics by Other Meant about the Republican defeat in the 1996 presidential elections. In some measure, Republicans came to confront a dilemma Similar to the one traditionally faced by the Democrats. For three decades De- mocratic presidential prospects were undermined by the liberal positions needed to satisfy its activist cadres. After 1994 the mil- itance needed to satisfy its new conservative activists now began to complicate Republican presidential prospects. The Republican party of the 199OS—what might be called. the Gingrich—era GOP—differed significantly from the Republican coalition assembled by Ronald Reagan and his lieutenants in the late 19705 and early 1980s. GOP Organization and Mobilization First, in terms of organization and mobilization, Reaganism had involved the mobilization of disparate conservative con- stituencies through the development and communication of ideas via the mass media. Indeed, Reagan was dubbed the Great Com— municator because of his capacity to articulate themes and issues that would appeal to various groups that had reasons to oppose the established regime. Thus, a host of new issues—tax reduction, increased military spending, economic and financial deregulation, restrictions on abortion, limitations on the power of labor unions, and the reintroduction of prayer in the public schools—were used to appeal for the votes and support of members of the business community, suburban middle—class taxpayers, rural evangelical Protestants, and urban working-class Catholics. But while the Reagan Republicans appealed to all these groups, they did little to organize any of them. Reaganism was very much a media phenomenon, relying upon a small number of activrsts and possessing little organizational presence at the grass roots. With some notable exceptions (e.g., the Moral Majority), most of the groups formed during the Reagan era to advance conservative causes were little more than staff-directed, direct—mail organiza- tions based in Washington. In some respects, grassroots conser- vatism actually suffered during the Reagan era, as thousands of Electoral Deadlock 65 local activists were drawn to Washington to work in the adminis- tration. By the late 19805 even the Moral Majority had lost most of its local chapters.6 Gingrich Republicanism, on the other hand, involved a very substantial measure of grassroots organization. Reagan Republi— canism consisted of activists at the center connected by television and direct mail to the periphery. This form of mobilization had only a limited impact upon Congress, once the initial surge of pop- ular support for Ronald Reagan diminished. It also had virtually no influence on state and local governments. The Reagan revolu— tion did not penetrate far from the nation’s capital. By contrast, the forces constituting the Republican coalition of the 19905 were organized at the state, county, and local levels in al- most all regions of the nation. Unlike the Reaganites, the Gingrich Republicans had the capacity to bring pressure to bear on members of Congress as well as on state and local officials. For example, the Christian Coalition, successor to the Moral Majority, has nearly two million active members organized in local chapters in every state. Twenty of the state chapters have full—time staff, and fifteen have annual budgets over two hundred thousand dollars.7 The N a- tional Taxpayers Union has several hundred local chapters. The National Federation of Independent Business has hundreds of ac- tive local chapters throughout the nation, particularly in the Mid west and Southeast. Associations dedicated to defending “property rights" are organized at the local level throughout the West. Right- to-life groups are organized in virtually every congressional district. Even proponents of the exotic principle of home schooling are or— ganized through the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which has seventy-five regional chapters that in turn are linked to more than three thousand local support groups. Much of this organizational complexity emerged after Reagan left office. Thousands of conservative activists who had gone to Washington to work in his administration returned to their homes still eager to be involved in Republican politics. These former of- ficials, who formed what came to be called the Reagan Diaspora, ...
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