Vote sweep for Reagan with limits
Pluralism persists in the American body politic. Exulting in his 49-state election victory, Ronald Reagan is poised to continue the basic conservative approach to government he launched four years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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But he does not have a mandate for a move further to the right in his second term. The American people, while electing a Republican President for the fourth time in the last five elections, stopped short of giving Mr. Reagan the strength he needs in the US Congress to enact his conservative agenda. The Republicans only partly recovered the losses they sustained in the House of Representatives in 1982. And their majority in the Senate was reduced by two seats.
This bifurcated public mood will act as a brake on any rightward ideological swing, political experts say. Divided government will continue to pose a challenge to resolving controversies in such urgent areas as nuclear arms control, budget deficits, and immigration reform.
Moreover, Reagan will be a lame-duck president in his second term as the next election cycle looms and the political battle for leadership succession begins in both the Democratic and Republican Parties.
''This is no mandate to the far right,'' says presidential scholar Robert Murray of Pennsylvania State University. ''The country as a whole is fairly satisfied with a Republican President who has stuck to a moderate or slight right course. But they persisted in electing Democrats at regional and local levels. With this kind of surge for Reagan you would have expected more of a coattail effect.''
Whatever the difficulties ahead, for the moment President Reagan can bask in the most impressive landslide at the presidential level since 1936. He captured every state but Minnesota and the District of Columbia. He swept up the entire American middle class, carrying the young people, the majority of women, the elderly, most ethnic groups, the once-Democratic vote among Catholics, blue-collar workers, farmers, and even millions of voters of low income. Democratic challenger Walter Mondale made inroads only among black, Jewish, unemployed, and low-income voters.
According to the final count, Reagan won 525 electoral votes and Mondale, 13. Reagan also garnered 59 percent of the popular vote, as against 41 percent for Mondale. In 1980 Reagan won only 50.7 percent of the vote.
Political analysts attribute the Reagan triumph to economic prosperity, peace , and the image of strong presidential leadership. Bucking a more buoyant, patriotic, and self-confident national mood simply proved an impossible task for the man from Minnesota. Mr. Mondale himself suggests Americans were inclined to give Reagan the benefit of the doubt after so many one-term presidencies.
''No one could have stopped Reagan,'' says presidential scholar Stephen Wayne , of George Washington University. ''The American people have ratified their presidency and they have done it in striking numbers. They have given him a resounding vote of confidence.''
''It's another personal triumph for a popular president, as in 1956 and 1972, '' says James Sundquist, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution. ''But it's not a great Republican victory - they have fewer senators, congressmen, and governors than four years ago. So it's not an earthquake or a realignment.''
Thomas E. Cronin, author of ''The State of the Presidency,'' suggests that the Reagan triumph was basically one of personality over issues, inasmuch as Americans do not go along with the President on many questions. But he says that the present conservative climate in the country is not to be underestimated.
''On the question of the role of government, the American people are in concert with him,'' Dr. Cronin remarks. ''They do like the idea of a rollback to the days when government was less intrusive. Reagan has been a conservative, and that fits well with the American mood.''
Looking ahead to his second term, the question now being asked is what specifically President Reagan has on his agenda and how he expects to accomplish it. During the campaign the President never spelled out plans for the future, running primarily on his record. But he and his aides have indicated a desire to achieve the following:
* A nuclear-arms-reduction agreement with the Soviet Union.
* A tax-simplification reform that would broaden the tax base and provide more revenue for closing the budget deficits.
* Further spending cuts to scale back government, tackling such areas as medicare and retirement benefits.
* A balanced-budget amendment.
* Completion of the military buildup.
* Further easing of environmental laws.