Washington — The most significant development of the early general election campaign is that Republican Party unity is holding fast behind Ronald Reagan. So say veteran political watchers and leaders of both parties, who maintain that if a split between moderates and conservatives was in the offing it probably would be visible by now.
But with Mr. Reagan at least papering over differences by deciding to retain Bill Brock as GOP national chairman at least until the November election, signs that the party is likely to cut itself apart as it did in the Goldwater-Johnson race of 1964 are not in evidence.
Indeed, conversations with GOP leaders indicate that, as expected, conservatives are glowing in their praise of Mr. Reagan, but now so are moderates. It is clear that there is no Reagan position on domestic or foreign affairs that is being perceived by either wing of the party as important enough to fight about.
Moderates say they are keeping a close watch on the former California governor and that they might become uncomfortable if he emerges as too much of a "hawk" on foreign policy. But, as one Midwestern moderate put it: "I can take Ron. He doesn't scare me a bit."
Republicans generally are finding something particularly appealing -- and thereby unifying -- in Mr. Reagan: the fact that he seems to be a winner, or at least a possible one. They also generally appear to like him as a person, whereas in 1964 many found Senator Goldwater less than likeable, even abrasive. This personal antipathy added to the inclination of a vast number of Republicans not to vote at all that year or to vote for Lyndon Johnson.
A recent Newsweek poll gives Mr. Reagan a slight edge over President Carter in a two- man race, and an even bigger advantage in a three-way race including John Anderson.
The "biggest thing going for Reagan," as one veteran Washington observer puts it, is that while Republicans of all views have lots of complaints, these are centered on Mr. Carter and the way he has conducted the presidency.
"The Democrats would like to make Reagan the issue," this observer says. "But thus far they have failed in this. Carter is the big issue in this campaign -- and unless this can somehow be turned around to the place where Reagan -- his mistakes, his easy answers, or whatever it is, becomes the big issue -- Carter is going to lose."
Still, Democratic national chairman John White contends it is "inevitable" that Mr. Reagan "will flub it." Mr. White seems certain that the Republicans will yet end up in a tumultous struggle so divisive that Mr. Reagan's presidential hopes will not be able to survive.
"The split among Republicans is much bigger and worse than what we have in the Democratic Party," Mr. White told the Monitor. "When it happens, probably during the early part of the campaign, it's going to be enough to beat Reagan."
"Remember," Mr. White said, "the Republicans have a genius for blowing it."