Washington — Walter Mondale, the liberal, still is comfortable in his relationship with Jimmy Carter, the pragmatist. Further, the Vice-President is less than amused these days at persistent rumors that he hopes the President will step aside and let him take a crack at the White House this year.
The above assertions are not merely what is perceived by doubters to be the Vice-President's "public position" -- one which they say he takes out of necessity.
Instead, the evidence of a continued, close tie between the President and the Vice-President comes from those who know him best and talk to him in private, confidential terms -- not just in the White House but also on Capitol Hill and back in Minnesota, where Mr. Mondale retains a number of close relationships.
Up to now the Vice-President has not been able to stop the rumors about his presidential ambitions -- even though he denies them whenever questions about his political future are raised.
Further, it is known that top Carter political aides, including both Robert Strauss and John White, feel that the rumors themselves are undercutting the President and must somehow be ended lest they grow and provide the material for a convention where a Mondale-for-president effort might surface.
Another key administration Democrat puts the problems this way: "This isn't of Mondale's doing -- not a bit of it. But the Vice-President is going to have to find a way to make it clear to all that he won't be available as a compromise candidate. Up to now, his words on the subject haven't been enough."
While out on the campaign trail, the Vice-President has answered questions about his future by saying he has no other plans but to win this election. He then opens the door for possibly running for president in 1984.
But up to now that has not been enough to silence the talk of the "Mondale alternative" -- the phrase used by a growing number of liberal Democrats who do not want the President to be their nominee.
The Mondale-Carter tie -- always viewed as an awkward, unrealistic one by Democratic liberals -- has never been anything other than close. This assessment comes from sources close to both the Vice-President and the President.
"The Vice-President may disagree with the President in the course of the development of some policy," one source says. "But he has always been able to give full support to the final policy decision made by the President."
But many liberals seem to believe that a restless, unhappy, frustrated Mondale sits and broods in his office close to that of the President.
"That's why Mondale likes to go out on the campaign trail so much," one liberal observer says. "He's fed up of Carter policy, both domestic and foreign , and wishes he could find a way to show he isn't to be identified with it."
Thus, many liberals see Mr. Mondale suffering much as Hubert Humphrey did when he was President Lyndon Johnson's Vice-President -- when Mr. Humphrey would have liked to divorce himself from President Johnson's Vietnam policy.
But sources say that from the outset, the Mondale-Carter relationship has been particularly good.
But nothing that is said or written of Mr. Mondale's abiding loyalty to the President seems to satisfy those who find the relationship suspect.