Reagan political aide: 'We're . . . looking at '84 now'

How do you account for the early strong public support for the Reagan economic package on Capitol Hill? They've finally got somebody trying to do something. It's just that simple. He came in, said what he was going to do, set out, and made a direct approach. He hasn't fiddled around. He hasn't backed and filled. It's such a pleasant change from the last guy [Jimmy Carter]. The contrast is so stark.

Will the White House's second 100 days differ in thrust from the first 100?

This President is setting out to do the things that he's always talked about doing, that he's wanted to do for a long time. And you will see it continue. There's no way in the world he's going to back off.

What about the social issues -- abortion, school prayer? Will he ever get around to them?

They will encroach eventually. They're a part of the President's long-term program. You'll see him push on social issues. There's no doubt about it.

But his priorities are to get the nation back on the right track first, economically and militarily. He doesn't want to let anything get in the way right now of his major objective -- which is to get inflation under control and the nation back in a leadership role in the world.

Is the President feeling crowded by the conservatives who want the social agenda acted upon?

Let's be clear about one thing. The conservatives in this town are not necessarily Republican. They are primarily the New Right. They are primarily ideologues. They support issues, many times, over men.

Having said that, these guys -- the [Richard] Viguries, the [Paul] Weyrichs -- will tell you that the President's agenda is basically their agenda, which is why they're supporting him. They are willing to forgive us a few minor transgressions [on appointing moderates to key administration posts] and will be at least constructive in their criticisms.

I've told them, "I don't mind if you criticize this President. He needs pressure from the right." In this town, traditionally, most of the pressures have come from the left. You need some balance there. "If there's any name-calling," I've told them, "you and I are going to come to a parting of the ways." But I don't see that or expect that.

Have we already seen the broad brush strokes of a Reagan administration? Will there be a new set of initiatives to identify something like the New Deal did for FDR's rule?

I don't really expect to see any brand-new initiavites, such as a New Deal or a New Great Society as Lyndon Johnson gave us. I expect the effort will continue to be, down the line, to create more economic freedom for individuals to go with the personal freedoms they already have, to give us a government that interferes less with people's lives.

What about a Reagan role in the 1982 and 1984 elections?

Politically, we're moving ahead. Certainly we're looking at '82 now. I'm looking at '84 now.

The things you do in '81 and '82 are going to have a direct bearing on '84. I'm not out planning who will run Illinois in '84. But what we are doing is saying, Hey, it's necessary to keep that organization together.

Yes, we're planning an active Reagan role in '82; as much as he has time for. We haven't sat down and done any planning on this. But my recommendation will be that, if we're trying to have a successful administration through the full four years, and if we're going to have a chance to be re-elected in 1984, then we've got to move the President into an active role in 1982.

You've got to go out and take your chances. You can't say: Well, gee, if the President goes out and campaigns and we don't pick up seats, that it's a reflection on him.

You say: Hey, the President is the leader of the party as well as the country. If he doesn't go out and stand up for the things he believes and try to elect people who share his philosophy, then he really doesn't deserve to win.

Some political observers say Reagan's popularity in states like California is so great his endorsements could play an important role in the next election. Do you agree?

Absolutely. Reagan's support would probably be worth 10 points in a statewide election.

Does the administration have a "Southern strategy?"

this kind of thing in politics is instinctive. You see where the openings are, where the the opposition's weaknesses are. Politics is seizing opportunity. You don't operate in a vacuum. Today's opportunity may not exist tomorrow, or today's void may be filled with opportunity tomorrow. But there is no blueprint.

Does President Reagan care more about domestic affairs, by inclination, than about foreign affairs?

Yes. But he's probably more balanced than Nixon was. Nixon didn't care as much about domestic affairs because of how he perceives the dangers of communism.

But, he does have a stronger interest in domestic affairs.

Before the election, did he travel much abroad? Will he travel much as President?

He had gone abroad when asked to -- as at Nixon's request -- or for business reasons, but not primarily for the purpose of exploring foreign policy that I know of.

I don't know whether he will travel much next year. We'll be going into an election year. If he does, I hope it will be before Labor Day.

How does Mr. Reagan feel about a campaign role next year.

He's always been willing to campaign. Look at the record. He's spent a number of days and weeks campaigning for other candidates -- not only when he was governor. He didn't do so much in '76 because he was running himself -- although he did a great deal in the fall [after his nomination loss to President Ford]. In 1978 he campaigned heavily for Republican candidates. Add to that, he has a personal stake in electing Republicans, and I can't believe he won't do a significant amount of campaigning.

What does Mr. Reagan do for his administration --give you a fixed set of attitudes to steer by?

That's true. His attitudes have largely stayed unchanged, or have changed so slowly there has been no trouble keeping up with him.

Did his consistency play a role in the decision to lift the grain embargo?

He'd made a commitment on this. One of the things he's tried to do through his political life is live up to his commitments. Now, he can't always do it. But it's important to him. He likes to be thought of as a man of his word. He does not like to be thought of as a guy who is politically expedient. Now, clearly he sometimes has to do things when other factors come into play he hadn't thought of.

If he breaks a campaign promise, he's going to agonize over it, and break it for very good and solid reasons. He's probably glad to get [the embargo decision] behind him.

What does having control of the White House do for you, going into '82 and ' 84?

You have the prestige of the White House. You have the ability to make things happen. You have Republicans out in the departments and agencies.

I've always admired and envied the Democrats over the years.

I was surprised, really surprised, at the Carter people. In 1976 they were first-class politicians. But they were outsider politicians. They never figured out what to do once they got inside. I think we're smarter than they were.

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