Shortly after the fulfillment of the Republican "Contract With America," I spoke on a panel assessing the first 100 days of the 104th Congress. The gathering was a Washington meeting of charter members of GOPAC, the Republican candidate-recruitment and training organization closely associated with House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The charter members, as you might expect, are heavy contributors to the organization, which deserves a substantial measure of credit for the success over the years not only of GOP congressional candidates but also of Republican candidates at the state level. The GOP has done an extraordinary job of recruiting more and better-qualified candidates for office in recent years and providing them with ammunition on how best to get their message out; GOPAC has been central to that effort.
Thus the members are highly committed and have seen remarkable indications of their success - most visibly, obviously, in the ascendancy of Gingrich to the speakership. As a group, the members clearly are devoted to Gingrich as their political hero. While this group is conservative in conventional political terms, it also is animated by the speaker's unquenchable enthusiasm for the future.
I give this background because I was genuinely surprised by the question-and-answer period, the recurring theme of which was: Why do we have to vote to repeal the ban on assault weapons? This was something many in the audience did not want to see happen - some out of a personal conviction that such weapons are bad news, others perhaps agnostic on the issue but worried about the political fallout.
Now, I fancy myself a student of conservative politics and have even made something of a gleeful subspecialty over the years explaining its outlines to befuddled liberals, who tend to be clueless about the train that is in the process of running over them. They have a vague impression of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals with guns and Bibles, and that's about it. So I often have found myself explaining that conservatives come in all shapes and sizes and have divergent views on a wide range of subjects. Still, I would not have guessed that so many people in the GOPAC audience would come out where they apparently did on guns.
The issue of the so-called assault-weapons ban is now more or less off the table, but it will be back. And I'm sorry to say that I don't think my answer to the GOPAC audience much to dispel their concerns on the issue. I thought I'd better try it again, because the issue is important and actually has very little to do with guns.
Practical politics is coalition politics, and what the GOP is undertaking - with much success to date but with no assurance yet of victory - is the creation of a coalition-based electoral majority to supplant permanently the FDR/New Deal Democratic coalition that dominated American politics for about 60 years. That FDR/New Deal coalition was a wondrous thing to behold. …