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COMMENTARIES ON THE GOP : Losing Graciously Helps to Redefine, Realign Party : Even when bloodied in primaries and general elections, Republicans must learn to put the party above ideology.

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I recall Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) once telling a group of Nicaraguan Sandinistas in Managua that the true test of an emerging democracy’s political maturity is whether it can accommodate defeat.

Can the victors govern without purge or imprisonment? Will the losers high-tail it to the hills to wage destabilizing guerrilla warfare?

Oddly enough, these same principles are now applicable to the 139-year-old Republican Party as it becomes clear that conservatives are re-winning the battle for control of the party and its agenda. Consider this:

The conservative campaigner but moderate pretender to the Reagan legacy was defeated in November. Conservative Mississippi Reaganite Haley Barbour was just elected Republican National Chairman. Conservative Bruce Herschenson triumphed over moderate Tom Campbell and closed 22 points to nearly defeat Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate race. Moderate John Seymour was easily defeated by Diane Feinstein. Moderate Pete Wilson might be in trouble, yet conservative Dan Lungren so far is doing fine. Conservatives dominate the Assembly, Senate and congressional Republican caucuses. Congressman Dornan beat back Judith M. Ryan in a highly symbolic conservative-moderate showdown. Curt Pringle defeated two moderates in the Assembly primary. The entire conservative Orange County federal and state delegations were reelected comfortably this past November. The moderates never fielded a candidate against conservative Rob Hurtt in Orange County’s 32nd state Senate special election Tuesday. The election this weekend of California’s new Republican Party vice chairman (and therefore presumptive chairman in two years) is between two Reaganite conservatives, John McGraw and John Harrington. And the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996--Jack Kemp, Pat Buchanan, Phil Gramm and Dan Quayle--are all conservative Reagan Republicans.

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Yet, for all these conservative victories, our party’s drive to retain the governorship, control the state Legislature, and capture a U.S. Senate seat in California and retake the White House in 1996 will remain difficult to achieve unless all Republicans learn to be good losers or gracious winners.

As we prepare then for the ’94 and ’96 elections, moderates and conservatives should think about adopting some new “rules of engagement.”

* Practice what you preach even when it hurts: Competition is good in business and in politics.

Sure primaries are disruptive but they can be beneficial and should not always be discouraged. They test the strength of our convictions and of our appeal among the voters. Conservatives, long victimized by East Coast Establishment Republicanism, know the value of, and should not fear, allowing any faction its day in the primary voting booth.

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* No guts, no glory: Ideology and platforms do count. Party platforms should be bold, distinguishing statements about who we are and where we want to go.

Expediency and me-tooism are trapdoors opening onto credibility gaps of political defeat. If the moderates believe they have better ideas and grass-roots majorities, then prove it. They’ll then have no stronger weapon in changing national party policy. Let’s have at it about what it means to be a Republican.

* Traditional values matter: Our embrace of them is a defining difference between the two parties.

Christian fundamentalists were the most loyal block of Republican voters in 1992. Conservative Democrats are attracted to us because of them. While abortion isn’t the only values issue, repeated post-election national surveys demonstrate that more votes were cast for pro-lifer George Bush then pro-choice Bill Clinton among voters who voted solely because of the abortion issue. Conservatives have a family values plank with proven voter appeal. Moderates don’t.

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* You’ll be awful lonely in the other party: On the need for lower taxes, smaller government, strong overseas and defense policies, safer streets and the death penalty, choice in education and balanced economic growth there is broad agreement across the Republican political spectrum.

Face it, our disputes are largely around social issues. Conservatives didn’t leave the party over these issues in the ‘60s and ‘70s, why should the moderates? Stay and fight. If you lose but still agree with the majority of the other issues, then come down from the hills and stick with us.

Fight another day--but not on General Election Day.

* Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he eats at McDonald’s: We’re good at rallying to defeat adversity.

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Bill Clinton and his one-party rule in Washington is already serving up our best chance to quit bickering and concentrate on winning. So far, the tax and spending policies of the Clinton Administration are making us feel it’s Carter time all over again. Let’s not blow it.

* Don’t be a sore loser or a poor winner: When the conventions and primary battles are over, swallow hard if you must, but remember every Republican has something to contribute to our victory--whether it’s shoe leather, a telephone, an idea or a dollar. And conservative or moderate Republican officeholders are always preferable to liberal Democrats.

Kathryn Thompson may have been very public about her support for Bill Clinton but, go ahead and admit it, we all know conservative Republicans who quietly joined her or jumped ship to Perot, don’t we?

We want them all back.

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Thompson has good ideas on capital investment, development and privatization. But by the same token, when the primary was over, Kathryn, Judy Ryan and Eileen Padberg should have endorsed Dornan in the general election. He’s got an awful lot in common with them on defense and foreign affairs.

So get ready, the next three years will be challenging, invigorating and healthy for our party at all levels.

Moderates will once again do battle with conservatives over a new presidential nominee, national platform and nearly everything else in between. This is nothing new. It is reminiscent of 1977 through 1980, indeed the entire post-World War II history of the Republican Party.

The only question is whether we, as party members, will seek retribution ('64, ’76 and ’92) or reconciliation ('68, ’80). Ronald Reagan knew. Don’t you?

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