• U.S.

Nation: I’m Kind of Moderate

4 minute read

Reagan gets a sunny welcome from an old opponent

While President Carter confronted Ted Kennedy at the White House, a much more amiable encounter reunited the two most eminent figures in the G.O.P. They had never been friends, and as recently as last March, Gerald Ford had described Ronald Reagan as “unelectable.” But as they strolled out of their meeting near the 13th hole of the Thunderbird Country Club in Palm Springs last week, Ronnie and Jerry looked as if they had been lifelong pals. Smiling and relaxed in a blue blazer and beige slacks, Ford called the talks “very, very constructive.” Said he: “We are establishing a relationship that is vitally important. I pledge myself to campaign wholeheartedly.”

During their meeting, Ford urged Reagan to concentrate on three key issues: unemployment, weak national defense and the vagaries of Carter’s foreign policy. About that charge of Reagan’s being unelectable, Ford said he changed his mind when the economic news grew worse. He also felt that Reagan had “moderated” some of his earlier views. Reagan did not quite accept that. He said that changes had occurred in the “perception of my viewpoints rather than my viewpoints themselves.”

Much of the interest in the Reagan-Ford meeting had been aroused by reports that the two could be persuaded to join forces on the G.O.P. ticket, but Ford firmly ruled himself out as a possible vice-presidential candidate. He gave as his reason the constitutional obstacle against the President and Vice President living in the same state: namely, California. Accepting the No. 2 spot, said Ford, would create a “problem of such magnitude that I wouldn’t even consider it.” To take up residence elsewhere would be a “phony operation.”

Ford faced other problems as well. At 66, he is only three years younger than Reagan and could not very easily be considered a successor. Moreover, he does not want to get bogged down again in the minutiae of government. Explains an aide: “He wants to help on things like peace treaties, but he damn well does not want to get involved in water projects.”

With Ford out of the running, Howard Baker remains a top contender for the vice presidency, but a certain amount of opposition to him is building. While his skilled performance as Senate minority leader has won him the plaudits of G.O.P. moderates and even Democrats, he remains unacceptable to much of his party’s right wing because of his support of the Panama Canal treaties and federal funding for abortions.

George Bush, though considered a weak campaigner by some Reagan advisers, does not arouse the same degree of animosity among the party’s right wing. He would be grudgingly accepted by them, and he demonstrated popularity in the big states during the primaries. Ford is expected to support Bush, who was his CIA director.

Others under serious consideration as Reagan’s running mate are Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, New York Congressman Jack Kemp, former U.S. Treasury Secretary William Simon and Donald Rumsfeld, president of G.D. Searle & Co., who was Ford’s chief of staff and then Secretary of Defense. Reagan advisers have even discussed hawkish Democratic Senators Sam Nunn and Henry Jackson, but they are more likely to be considered for Defense Secretary. The consensus is that Reagan will choose a middle-of-the-road Republican.

Reagan’s immediate problem is to perk up his now slumbering campaign. He is still coasting on his familiar rhetoric; his aides have not supplied him with either fresh ideas or language for the coming battle. Since Campaign Manager John Sears was fired in February, no one has acquired enough clout to give the candidate firm instructions. Sears’ replacement, William Casey, is gradually working into his job, but it takes a long time to win Reagan’s confidence. This week state and regional coordinators are meeting with Casey in Los Angeles to try to get organized for the fall.

Feeling that he has a solid base of 120 to 140 electoral votes, compared with Carter’s 80, Reagan plans to concentrate on four key states where the President is considered vulnerable: Texas, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Reagan is budgeting roughly half the $29.4 million he will receive in federal campaign funds for TV, radio and print advertising. The ads will emphasize Reagan as the pragmatic Governor of California, a doer not an ideologue, an approach urged by Casey. To build an image as a statesman, Reagan plans to travel to Europe after the convention. Reflecting on his political philosophy, the man who was once considered the most ardent conservative in America admitted: “I think I’m kind of moderate.” Though, he added, “maybe we can overdo moderation.”

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