Los Angeles — Aware of the adage that a man is measured by the company he keeps, Ronald Reagan's advisers are constructing with utmost haste a "corporation" of experts they hope will reflect well on him in the testing months ahead.
They see the organizational task, with the mid-July convention fast approaching, as formidable:
* A political machine must be put together that is capable of effectively spending nearly $30 million in federal money in 50 state campaigns against the Democrats. They liken it to building a major business enterprise quickly from scratch.
* "An intellectual army" to write speeches and react with instant analysis to events during the campaign must be enlisted.
* And -- to prepare for governing after November, should Mr. Reagan win -- the initial policy and staffing outlines of the new administration must be drawn now, to develop consistently with the campaign. Little time, barely 10 weeks, will remain between the election and the January 1981 inauguration.
But time is not the only factor behind all the buzz and planning at Reagan headquarters here. The men around Mr. Reagan expect a tough fight. They think likely Democratic opponent Jimmy Carter will impugn Mr. Reagan's competence as governor of California (1967-74), his grasp of issues, and the practicality of his programs. President Carter has the advantage of an in-place government, teams of surrogates, and the trappings of office. The Reagan men say they must create, in effect, a "government in waiting" impressive enough to hold its own against Mr. Carter's resources as incumbent.
In recent weeks, the hive of Reagan preparedness has been the 14th floor of an office building close by the Los Angeles International Airport, amid hotels and car-rental offices. But in stages, the sight and drone of West Coast aircraft will be left behind as Reaganites encamp in Washington, D.C. -- symbolically to heighten their presence in the nation's capital, and practically for staging forays into the Eastern and Midwestern industrial states.
Twenty-four photos and a bronze bust of Mr. Reagan in the Los Angeles campaign office lobby suggest what is borne out quickly in the testimony of his closest aides and advisers -- a personal loyalty to the man. With that loyalty comes a dedication to his conservative political philosophy, and a shared set of life values that often key on the family.
This philosophical and personal loyalty among Reagan top staffers is regarded as crucial in judging what kind of national administration a Reagan presidency would create, say political experts who have followed the former California governor's career. Mr. Reagan carries the center stage in public, but privately leans heavily on his staff.
"He's a delegator," says Charles Adrian, political scientist at the University of California at Riverside. "Like Eisenhower, Reagan delegates in areas where he doesn't know the score. He gives considerable room to subordinates."
"The question is," Mr. Adrian says, "are these guys around Reagan up to the job in the White House? That's what I worry about.
"His statements in foreign policy in the past have been naive," Mr. Adrian says. "But his announced foreign policy advisers are all able, reasonably respected experts in foreign policy. In domestic policy he will probably depend on his California 'mafia.' Ed Meese particularly has his confidence."
Mr. Adrian is not alone in singling out Edwin Meese III as the man to study in assaying the men around Mr. Reagan. Mr. Meese was Governor Reagan's chief of staff in the Sacramento executive office. And since the ouster of campaign chief John Sears the day of the New Hampshire primary, Mr. Meese has functioned as chief of staff of the expanding Reagan presidential enterprise.
The self-effacing Ed Meese is hard for the public to get to know. He's been known to keep a reporter waiting a day-and-a-half for a few moments with him. "Ed Meese is the most powerful man there," says a former Reagan campaign worker. "But his view of the press is to keep things from them."
Soft-voiced, his jumbo-sized briefcase overstuffed with papers and reports so he must lean on it to close it, reports arranged in neat stacks on his desk, Ed Meese is the patient doer who has long enabled Ronald Reagan the leisure of a nine-to-five workday.
"Even though he's always running for planes, rushing to meetings, taking calls, I've never seen him out of sorts," says a secretary who's known Mr. Meese for years. "He's at peace with himself. That's because he has such a wonderful family life."
"In Sacramento, Ed Meese was the one man who held it all together when he was executive assistant," says Edwin Gray, Reagan press secretary during the Sacramento years and now traveling with the former governor for the campaign.
"An Ed Meese doesn't crumple and never panics," says political scientist Adrian. Mr. Meese, however, was only one of "a remarkably honest group" around Mr. Reagan, Mr. Adrian says. "In Reagan's eight years, there wasn't a hint of scandal, except for one personal staff embarrassment," Mr. Adrian observes. "Reagan wouldn't have any truck with people who would put a hand in the till, though they might not all have been brainy people."
Sharing the top campaign roles with Mr. Meese are William Casey, a crusty New York lawyer who has played several economic roles in Washington over the years, and pollster Richard Wirthlin. "Bill Casey knows the Eastern scene, the Eastern establishment," Mr. Gray says about Mr. Casey. "We're all Westerners. We know we need more cross-pollination. We need the support of the entire party."
Critics of the Reagan campaign keep looking for evidence of a falling out between campaign director Casey and Mr. Meese, which others in the Reagan entourage insist has not occurred.
Pollster Wirthlin, the chief strategist who joins Meese and Casey in the Reagan ruling troika, acknowledges that he and others playing sensitive roles can fairly be labeled "Reagan loyalists."
"But when the governor [Reagan] was elected, he didn't immediately ensconce his political team in Sacramento," Mr. Wirthlin says. "Reagan has an ability to look beyond the loyalists for talent. Most of the people in the government would not come from the campaign."
Mr. Wirthlin's devoted assessment of Reagan the man is typical of the other Reagan heavyweights. "My [opinion research] firm deals with 100 campaigns a year," Mr. Wirthlin says. "Few candidates wear as well as Ronald Reagan."
In the early 1960s the young Wirthlin, just out of graduate school at the liberal Berkeley campus of the University of California, conducted a statewide poll for a group of Reagan supporters.
"I had all the pre-conceptions of Reagan -- just an actor, not astute, humorless," Mr. Wirthlin recalls. "I was taken to his home. In 20 minutes of discussion I found him intelligent, strong, compassionate, warm, with the leadership traits I thought were needed. I shared graham crackers and milk with him and Nancy [Mrs. Reagan]."
"My commitment is to him," says Joe Holmes, Reagan campaign communications chief. "I'm not that enthralled with national politics." Mr. Holmes had produced the live Reagan student interview shows for over three years during the Sacramento days. "He took every question as it came," Mr. Holmes says admiringly. "He never asked me to cut any question or any answer. Those were the tough Watergate years. He's not in this for the perks. He doesn't care about White House trappings. In Sacramento he'd as soon be at home watching 'The Waltons' and eating macaroni and cheese."
The Reagan effort will have to reach beyond this California loyalist core to win and run the White House, however, says Caspar Weinberger, former Reagan finance chief in California and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in Washington from 1973 to 1975.
"You can't run a presidency like a governorship," says Mr. Weinberger, now the top lawyer with the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation and a Reagan adviser. Mr. Reagan will continue to attract advisers who share his conservative views, "so he won't have to waste time arguing about basic philosophy," Mr. Weinberger says. "It's not practical or useful to have a debating society or every view represented on the spectrum from left to right. But he's not looking for total agreement either, a bunch of 'yes men.' In Sacramento there was a difference of opinion.
"He's not a rigid ideologue," says Mr. Weinberger, who like other Reagan loyalists expects the Californian to be attacked by Democrats along that line. "He is eminently practical. He saw, with some bitterness after campaigning for lower taxes, that he would have to raise taxes when he took office in California. I know. I was one of those who argued he had to do it." Similarly, Mr. Reagan in office accepted a state withholding tax he opposed on ideological grounds (it increased the bureaucracy) when he became convinced state costs would have been higher without it, Mr. Weinberger says.
Two men have been charged with broadening the Reagan campaign's arsenal of ideas and with recruiting experts -- Martin Anderson, head of domestic policy, and Richard V. Allen, foreign and defense policy. Both have links to Stanford University's Hoover Institution -- which a student guide at the Palo Alto, Calif., campus recently referred to as "a leading right-wing think tank."
Mr. Anderson, an expert in subjects like welfare reform and the draft, takes a long view of the 1980 election's place in the evolution of domestic policy. He sees few policy surprises ahead in the campaign. Issues have a history of trial and debate, often reaching back 20 years or more, he says.
"In welfare reform, for example, Nixon's family assistance plan, McGovern's $ 1,000 for everyone, and the Ford program all had origins from the 1950s and 1960 s," Mr. Anderson says. Offering a glimpse of Reagan administration policy, he adds: "Guaranteed annual income studies in recent years show this doesn't work either. We can now conclude any radical reform plan is impossible to achieve."
Mr. Anderson's job is to get on tap a cadre of experts in some two-dozen domestic economic and social areas. "The important thing is to get their home phone numbers," he volunteers, suggesting their trouble-shooter role during the final campaign months.
"We're putting together an intellectual army," he says. "If he [Reagan] could get into the general election with several hundred experts, he could expand that rapidly if elected. There are well over 2,000 appointive positions in an administration, several hundred at the policy making level." Many campaign advisers will join the administration, "and they will bring their friends," he says.
Early Reagan policy recruits included Alan Greenspan, George Shultz, Mr. Weinberger, Milton Friedman, Arthur Burns, and William Simon among those with Washington policy and decision experience. Stanford economists Michael Boskin and Ezra Solomon are also influential and names to watch.
By last November, Mr. Anderson had prepared a summary of Reagan achievements as California governor. At the moment, some two dozen work groups are preparing Reagan legislative programs for use in the event he is elected, and to shape campaign programs. In coming weeks, Mr. Reagan will meet individually with some of the advisers.
"It's important for the candidate to come into a campaign with a defined set of positions," says Mr. Anderson, who has known Mr. Reagan since 1964. "These people will help apply policies to new conditions as the campaign rolls along."
On the foreign affairs and defense side, Mr. Allen similarly views policy questions in a broad context of known or definable positions among experts.
Mr. Allen, who heads his own international economic consulting firm based in Washington, has known Mr. Reagan only since 1977. He helped organize Mr. Nixon's foreign policy approach in 1968, undertook federal Washington assignments -- such as writing a "lap crusher" report on international economic policy for the Williams commission -- and wrote the 1976 Republican platform on foreign affairs and national security.
"Not to diminish my personal loyalty to Mr. Reagan," Mr. Allen says, "but my interest is exclusively in the policy that would result from a Reagan administration. I'm interested in the debate on national security affairs that is the proper subject of this campaign.
"We need a debate on grand strategy," he adds. And he feels the economic side of foreign and military affairs merits particularly close attention.
Reagan foreign policy must meet three requirements, Mr. Allen says. First, it must reflect the ideals of the American people, must be understood by the majority, and reflect "constancy of message." Second, to be strong abroad, the United States must be strong at home. "Internal slippage in the domestic economy, the fall in productivity, government strangulation of business, affect American business life abroad," he says. And third, "the US must have the military strength to project in the world where the defense of US interests must take place -- and the will to employ that power," Mr. Allen says.
Of the 90 foreign and defense policy experts initially signed on for the Reagan effort, most have done so as professionals offering judgment and expertise, not their political endorsement, Mr. Allen stresses.
Mr. Allen himself projects an independent streak. He resigned his post as a member of the national security adviser staff early in the first Nixon administration partly over Vietnam war policy, he says. "I thought it was wrong to stay in a war we were not going to win," he says.
As late as this week, one critical slot remains to be filled in the Reagan entourage -- a political chief, to supervise the nuts and bolts operations for the 50-state general campaign.
Anderson Carter, the tough but affable strategist who ran Mr. Reagan's primary campaigns, has returned to New Mexico. And no one is likely again to be given the broad command that John Sears insisted upon as campaign manager, before he and political director Charles Black and press aide James Lake were fired Feb. 26.
Reagan watchers now see a loyalist team approach -- with Mr. Meese at the pivot -- fending off any massive delegation of campaign authority to one individual. They see a more "corporate" structure evolving. An attempt will be made to weave platform themes, convention strategy, and the general campaign into a pattern consistent with a Reagan administration.
Mr. Reagan's most trusted aides appear comfortable in background, supporting roles. They feel Mr. Reagan has enough public presence for the lot of them. And they relate to their candidate, identifying his strengths and shoring up his weaknesses, roughly in the way described by University of California Professor Adrian:
"Reagan has a mind that grasps things quickly. He has almost a photographic memory. He doesn't think deeply and broadly. He's a self-made man -- he thinks people can make it under the rules, as he did."