Detroit — The Republican National Convention is the wrong place to find critics of Ronald Reagan. But there seemed no harm in asking some ardent Reagan backers who know him well just whym they like him.
Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a leader of the GOP's right wing, says: "I've known him since his GE days. He's a genuine, personable, good human being." (Mr. Reagan was host for a TV drama series sponsored by the General Electric Company in the 1950s.)
And Jim Lynn, who has just become Governor Reagan's legal counsel and political adviser, describes him as "straight, warm -- a man who is at peace with himself and with other people."
Rep. Jack F. Kemp says that "He is what you see -- likeable and decent. He has the self-confidence to be tolerant, to be able to listen to the ideas of others even when they conflict with his own."
Sen. John Tower of Texas notes: "He's a very fine, decent person and a public-spirited man. He possesses a good, basic intuiton on what is right to do. He's a quick study with the ability to grasp complex problems and put them into simple terms. He is always completely relaxed when dealing with people."
Ok, so what did you expect? Ronald Reagan, the nice person. It's an old them. It is being said often here by those who know him -- delegates as well as leaders.
To get a different answer we talked to a leading newsman who has covered the former California governor for years and who is not known to be an admirer. His response: "Reagan's a nice guy. That's it. If I could say otherwise, I would. But Reagan is a nice guy."
The theme of "nice-guy Reagan" persists, even among those who might detest him -- those he has fired. John Sears, former Reagan campaign manager who was let go just before the New Hampshire primary, speaks well of his old boss. He says he still likes him personally. And the Californian's former press secretary, Jim Lake, says of Mr. Reagan: "He's very decent, very pleasant. He is not prone to anger or being petty, and he's longsuffering.I like him."
But Mr. Lake did offer one critical comment: "Reagan," he said, "is not as political as he ought to be.Most people think he is the consummate politician. He is not.
"He is deeply committed man -- to saving the country from the excesses of this Democratic administration. But he only sees politics as a necessary evil, something he'd rather not be involved in."
This has been a common complaint from those who have worked closely with Governor Reagan through the years: He finds politics as rather dirty and he'd rather not soil his hands in it.
One current adviser and admirer puts it this way: "When it comes to politics and political strategy, Ron leaves it to others to work out the alternatives and the final blueprint. He's just not interested. And he doesn't really like that sort of thing."
Wait a minute, an observer might say here, hasn't Mr. Reagan been a big political winner in the past -- two times governor and now the presidential nominee-apparent. He must be a very good politician to do all that.
The recital of Mr. Reagan's obvious success does make a point. Good guy, unpolitical Ronald Reagan has come a long way in the world of politics.
But now he is playing in a much bigger arena, with a much greater prize. He's moved into the political major leagues. and it just may be that Reagan the Non-Politician will be facing the best politician now in the business when he comes up against Jimmy Carter, a man who has proved that he thrives on politics and who is at his best in the effort to get elected.
Not that Mr. Carter can't on occasion be genial, too. He has a kind of sweetness about him when he's mixing with the folks and shaking hands. And beyond that, those who work with him find him a very easy person to deal with -- most of the time. If they are measuring up, getting it right.
But Carter the Politician is shrewed, tough -- quick to see the soft spots in his adversary and bore in on them.
Jimmy Carter loves politics. Some say he loves the fight even more than the prize. The President gives credit to Hamilton Jordan for mapping out his winning strategy in 1976; but there is no mistaking that Mr. Carter is his own top politician, the man who is the end decides on and then directs strategy after listening to advice from some of the best political thinkers available, including master politicians Jordan and Robert Strauss.
Governor Reagan now holds a substantial lead over the President in the polls, but there is a long way to go. He already has disproved in his experience Leo Durocher's oftquoted "nice guys finish last." But will he be able -- against a politically savvy, give-no-quarter, attack-the-opponent's-weakness adversary -- to demonstrate that a nice, pleasant person can win the nation's top political job?