For GOP Right, Not a Happy Time?

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President-elect Bush addresses the nation

In an election year, candidates are expected to anchor their campaigns in the middle ground. Everyone from Jesse Jackson to Jerry Falwell understands: Moderating the message is just part of winning the race.

That acceptance, of course, hinges on a critical assumption: Once the campaign is over, the façade drops and the true message emerges. That's what many of America's conservative groups presumed, anyway, when they lined up behind George W. Bush. They'd swallow the requisite moderate language, downplay their commitment to abolishing abortion and protecting gun rights — and shovel cash into the campaign. Heck, they'd even hide behind the scenes to avoid scaring away swing voters, knowing their reward would come January 20, when, in the words of the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre, they could "just set up offices right inside the Bush White House."

But now that Bush has won this squeaker of an election, some conservative groups and leaders are worried: When will all this talk of bipartisanship end and the business of agenda-setting begin?

Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are keeping a particularly close — some say nervous — eye on Bush's Cabinet appointments, apparently hoping the new administration will dig in its heels and name conservatives to the most critical posts, including attorney general and, even more important, secretary of health and human services. There's a simple reasoning behind their insistence: Abortion. "You must have a pro-life head of HHS," right-wing activist Marshall Wittmann told the New York Times.

"I would hope Mr. Bush would begin selecting strong advocates of his policies on cutting taxes, rebuilding the family, rebuilding the military, all the things that the people who put him in office supported him for," Jerry Falwell told the Times Thursday.

There may be some bad news for Falwell: Bush (not to mention many of the people who voted for him) may not share the reverend's fervor. And now, in the post-Florida rush to compromise, Bush likely has even less appetite for showdowns over hot-button issues than he might have if he had won a landslide. Falwell's presumptive vindicator may not be willing to spend his meager political capital trying to squeeze a militantly pro-life candidate through an evenly split Senate committee.