The Republicans continue to remind us that the obituaries for the two-party system are blessedly premature. Not only did the GOP come back to the White House and Senate, despite all those minority-party percentage figures. It also appears determined to continue broadening its base in the stabilizing and unifying American manner by which each major party represents a coalition rather than an ideological monolith. At least this seems the direction of the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Richard Richards, as it was of his acclaimed predecessor, Bill Brock. And we were glad to see Mr. Richards get so quickly off the mark at his first press conference.
Indeed, it was no new thing for him to talk about broadening the party base, something he has long sought as state party chairman in Utah. On the weekend he in effect rededicated himself to the concept on a national scale through grass-roots organization at every level. One priority was to recruit qualified minority candidates and help them get elected.
At the same time Mr. Richards, known as a staunch conservative himself, took the occasion to put the party's right wing in perspective. He suggested it took "the people" and not a conservative majority to elect Ronald Reagan. To him the right wing seemed to have "overstated" its impact.
Certainly at the GOP convention the right wing had great influence on the platform and the rules. After the election right-wingers began warning Mr. Reagan that they would hold him accountable for compromising on issues or lapsing from positions on which they voted for him.
Mr. Reagan has said he would not ignore the people who elected him, but he and his team have not acted as if they were the right wing's prisoners, and strict ideology has appeared to give way to other considerations in planning and appointments.
Such an approach would be in keeping with Mr. Reagan's own Republicanism, which in the past has been praised even by liberal Republicans who disagree with some of his conservative views. They have drawn a distinction between his support of a spectrum of Republican candidates -- and the tendency of his New Right backers to support those who pass their ideological tests whether Republicans or Democrats. They are seen as New Righters first and Republicans second, if at all.
Mr. Richards noted the problem of regular Republicans taking the rap for the tactics of some right-wing political action committees. He charged the latter with "cutting up" opponents beyond the control of candidates they were supposed to be supporting. Such negative tactics were lamentably evident in a number of congressional races last fall.
What is needed for a healthy two-party system is a positive thrust by each party, offering better alternatives without "cutting up" the opposition. Here, too, lies a possibility for reducing the divisiveness of the special interests warned against by President Carter in his farewell address.
Mr. Richards obviously knows the history of the GOP and what it did for the two-party system simply be being born back there in 1854 in the Wisconsin village of Ripon. People from various quarters were drawn together to resist the extension of slavery and promote a more enlightened capitalism. As the party grew it represented a combination of interests and ideas.
With Republicans now in the ascendant, the Grand Old Party has a grand opportunity to show once more that it is a party of more than a favored few, that it is avoiding the mistake Mr. R ichards identified as hanging out the "No Help Wanted" sign.