Washington — Ronald Reagan may well be the beneficiary of a coalition of forces that was put together by Richard Nixon and then sidetracked for several years because of Watergate.
If that is so, then the rather widely accepted assumption that Mr. Reagan will be a one-term president could be erroneous.
Political observers in this city often reason along this line: Unless Reagan can cope with the economy, he will be out after four years. From this they come readily to the conclusion that, since solutions to the troubled economy, and particularly inflation, will inevitably elude Mr. Reagan, he will be dumped by the voters at their earliest opportunity.
But while the economy and a desire for new approaches to economic problems were uppermost in the minds of the voters in November, those involved in the Reagan triumph may well stick with him even if his record on the economy isn't all that successful.
There are signs of a "new majority" in the nation -- one that has existed in effect since Nixon was elected in 1968 and then given a landslide victory in 1972. This isn't really a conservative majority. What most people want today is to cut back on government spending while keeping all the government benefits coming to them. "What the people really want," political analyst Richard Scammon says, "is a conservative-welfare state."
The glue in the coalition comes from other shared public desires.
First and foremost, people are becoming fed up with crime, particularly with the increasing amount of violent crime. No longer is this true mainly of older Americans, who look longingly at an earlier, rural-oriented time when their lives were free of such dangers. Today's near-revolt against crime comes from people of all groups, colors, and ages.
Some of it is emerging in a strong public call for government action -- for curbing the sale of handguns and for enacting laws that will make a gun-carrying criminal liable to automatic, severe punishment of many years in prison. There is a "get-tough-with-the criminal" mood in America and the Republicans are the beneficiaries of that mood.
Additionally, Republicans are gaining support today from millions of Americans who were once Democrats but who are upset with what is happening to the family and who see Ronald Reagan as someone who at least supports the old, traditional family values. Many Americans think that the Democrats tend to deal permissively with youth and that they have thus participated in the breakdown of the family.
These Americans tend to see the gay rights movement as Democratic-oriented. Also, to blame the Democrats more than the Republicans for the rise of the drug culture in America. These attitudes probably are not fair, but many polls show they definitely are a part of political alignments today.
This new majority may well be understanding of Reagan's problems if, as expected, he doesn't turn the economy around. They won't be with him, of course , if he flops, but they may be quite patient with a president who upholds the old values. And they may well stick with him four years from now, even if his record in stabilizing the economy shows only modest succes s.