Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, the powerful, many-chaptered politico-religious group, is changing its strategy as it prepares for the 1984 U.S. presidential election. The fundamentalist New Right group, championing such issues as the outlawing of pornography and abortion and
reinstituting prayer in school, is credited with directing millions of votes toward Ronald Reagan in November, 1980. At the same time, it played a key role in defeating some liberal senators and congressmen. But the movement had no impact in last fall’s congressional elections. Undaunted after years
of relying on “hit lists” and scurrilous personal attacks on liberal candidates, what is considered to be one of the most influential conservative movements in the United States is adopting a new approach: accentuating the positive. Some high priests of the Right even want to shed the New Right label for a broader, vaguer title: the New Populists.
New Populism is defined by Richard Viguerie, the direct-mail mogul and fund raiser, in the October, 1982, issue of Conservative Digest—a second bible among New Righters. According to Viguerie, 49, the revamped movement is a popular uprising against big government, big banks, big labor and media elitists. For his platform, Falwell, 50, has added twin crusades against “freezeniks,” as he calls antinuclear campaigners, and homosexuals who, he charges, have given the United States a disease, AIDS, which “could become the plague of the century.”
The New Right is deeply divided over support for Reagan in 1984. Some continue to endorse him, although with cooled enthusiasm. That support could be financially important. The Moral Majority chieftain is adding a political action committee to his $63-million empire (it includes a religious program seen on 54 stations across Canada) called the I Love America Committee. Its sole task will be to funnel money to Falwell’s political favorites in 1984. Falwell hopes to raise $4 million to be spread among a dozen conservative candidates, including Reagan. In other New Right quarters support for Reagan has evaporated. Archconservatives, who feel that the president has let them down by compromising with the liberals, indicate that they would endorse Jesse Helms, the 61-year-old Republican senator from North Carolina, as their presidential choice if he decided to run. From his seat on the Senate foreign relations committee, Helms constantly berates Reagan’s arms control policies, charging that the president holds “naïve, Alice in Wonderland” ideas about the Soviet Union’s world designs.
What success can the New Right hope for in 1984? Many political observers predict that it will not fare much better than it did last fall. Americans seem to feel that the rightward swing has gone far enough. It is difficult to predict the impact of the new “positive approach,” but with bright signs appearing on the all-important economic front, the president’s advisers see no reason for him to alter his brand of conservatism.
For its part, the Moral Majority and other archconservative groups, as they plan for 1984, are fatalistically turning their eyes toward heaven. Notes Viguerie: “If we lose or win, God’s will is going to be done. He has his plan.”
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