Reagan 'bloopers': Is go-it-alone style to blame?
Washington — At the core of Ronald Reagan early campaign problems -- only highlighted by the "blooper-a-day" fireworks over Taiwan or the Ku Klux Klan -- is that he is shouldering too much of the public campaign load himself, say constructive critics in his own camp.
His tendency to dig in stubbornly when he thinks he is right and speak his mind oblivious to the likely uproar, say longtime Reagan intimates, is not being curbed by his staff.
His campaign, by not deploying surrogates to attack the Carter administration , is allowing the Republican nominee to get peppered by the Carter team without effective rebuttal.
Tactically, the campaign has developed too leisurely a format -- with usually only one or two major speeches a week on broad themes like the economy or Middle East relations -- which leaves wide gaps for a news- hungry press to fill by focusing on impromptu remarks. An idle press is impossible to handle, observes one Reaganite.
The danger to Mr. Reagan is that his impromptu style -- personable, earnest, aggressive, comfortable before the TV camera -- which served him well in California as governor and as a campaigner for the presidential nomination, may be sending off the wrong signals in the race for the White House.
One California supporter, for example, a successful businessman who calls Reagan "a good governor" and who "likes his philosophy," admits now to having second thoughts. "He did those things when he was governor," this supporter says of the Reagan "throwaway" remarks. "But in the White House the stakes are higher. They can cause trouble in international circles."
Some Reagan strategists caution it is too early to "hang black crepe around Reagan headquarters."
"This is a preliminary shakedown," one says. "We're a long way from saying the election is decided. The tragedy would be for the campaign to descend to the level of arguing over bloopers and miss discussing the vital issues of the election."
Even the question of racism in the 1980 election -- implicit in both Reagan's Ku Klux Klan remark and in President Carter's courting Alabamian George Wallace on Labor Day -- may be obscured by focusing on the candidate's impromptu remarks , this Reaganite says. The black community is sensitive to the rising level of violence in Klan activities in recent years. The nuances of Reagan's appearing in the all-white Detroit suburb of Allen Park and then alluding to Carter's appearance in Alabama also were missed.
Still, Reagan advocates concede his wanting to run his own campaign, and the corresponding structural problems in the campaign machine, must be addressed.
"He needs an out-front spokesman," one Reaganite says. "Running a campaign is a 24- hour job. He can't carry the ball every time himself. Not even O. J. Simpson can do that."
Says another supporter: "He doesn't have anyone on the road with him tough enough to front him."
"Reagan's not a bad guy," this supporter says. "He doesn't understand the throwaway lines have barbs in them that will catch in his own hide.After the fact, after he's knocked about for saying something he insisted on saying, he will back off. But, as in the past, if he continues to make these bloopers he will begin to attack the press. And he will begin to develop the Agnewisms of another era.
"The trouble is, he's all alone.
"If he wins, he'll do it on his own -- not because of his staff.
"If he loses, he will do that on his own, too."
The memory of the last Reagan campaign shakeup -- when he fired strategist John Sears and two aides the day of the New Hampshire primary -- is still strong , say current Reagan workers.
But they observe that Carter has his Vice- President, Cabinet, even his ambassadors abroad and allies in Congress, concentrating their fire on the Republican nominee. While Reagan's staff was releasing a half-apologetic, half-defiant printed statement on the Ku Klux Klan issue, Carter was outmaneuvering the Republican from a half- dozen other angles, they say.
An awkwardness in dovetailing Reagan's remarks with staff backup also was visible this week. Reagan's warning to Japanese automakers -- and add-on to his prepared remarks for a meeting with Detroit auto workers Sept. 2 -- left reporters huddled later at a curb side with a Reagan aide to find out how far the candidate was willing to go to limit imports. Such catch-up actions should be avoided, his staff concedes.