San Francisco — Defense Secretary-designate Caspar Weinberger has a history of making hardcore conservatives anxious, if not irate. As state party chairman in California in the early 1960s, he did not join the dominant Goldwater crusade to overpower the more ecumenical brand of Republicanism espoused by Nelson Rockefeller. He backed Ronald Reagan's moderate primary opponent when the ex-actor first ran for public office. He committed similar political apostasy when he opposed the conservative push to do away with California's open-housing law (an effort later declared unconstitutional).
As Richard Nixon's Federal Trade Commission chairman, Mr. Weinberger pushed -- more vigorously than the Nixon administration might have wished -- for enhanced consumer protection, even going as far as to ask Ralph Nader's advice in hiring a commission aide.
Yet, for all the seemingly more liberal stigmata (added to, no doubt, by his Harvardian intellectualism), the native San Franciscan is a solid conservative who swears by the political catechism of his President-elect boss. He is concerned about increased Soviet military spending and activity. He sees a need for substantial increases in US defense spending, wants more military hardware (including a new manned bomber), and would bolster the all-volunteer armed services, both in pay and prestige.
Mr. Reagan apparently recognized this kindred philosophical spirit many years ago. He wanted Weinberger as his finance director as soon as he was elected governor of California in 1966. But he bowed to right-wing Republican pressure and waited more than a year to name Weinberger to the post that earned him the nickname "Cap the Knife." Weinberger, who would bring more federal experience to the Reagan cabinet than any other appointee, has been called a "fiscal puritan" who is both tough-minded and thoughtful.
As Nixon's budget director and secretary of health, education, and welfare, he displayed a controlled and loyal -- but independent -- management style, hewing away at the size of government as he had done for Reagan in Sacramento.