Washington — Public patience with the President persists. It's compounded of two rather conflicting elements: a continuing trust in Ronald Reagan and his leadership together with something less than confidence in Mr. Reagan's ability, particularly on the economic front, to succeed.
Political leaders throughout the United States report that the President is, indeed, still riding high with the bulk of the voters. But they also report that , apparently in growing numbers, the very same people who elected Reagan in November are putting their present case for Reagan in these terms:
They like him a lot, even more than they did when he was just a candidate. They continue to hope that he has the remedy for what ails the economy. But they are, for the most part, perplexed over how Reagan's mixture of spending cuts and tax trims will bring back a buoyant economy that will include a brake on inflation and an increase in employment.
The other evening this reporter was chatting with a group of residents of New Canaan, Conn., most of whom identified themselves as Republicans. They appeared to be content with Reagan as President. Some were enthusiastic about him. They all seemed to find him very likable.
But a fair number of the group seemed less than conversant with Reagan economics and how it worked. And there were one or two who observed that they found the economic brew served up by Mr. Reagan a rather strange one.
Said one businessman, in effect: Reagan is giving us his supply-side approach which says that tax cuts alone will stimulate and stabilize the economy. But then on top of that he is pushing through all these spending reductions that conservatives have always wanted.
This gentleman seemed more puzzled over Reagan's two-track prescription for economic recovery than unhappy with the President himself.
This division in the public view of the President is only now breaking through what has been widespread acclaim.
But it extends beyond economics. People generally support Mr. Reagan in what they perceive to be his efforts to strengthen the military and play a stronger, more assertive role in global affairs. Yet some of these same people question whether he has provided for a defense buildup sufficient to back up his hawkish rhetoric and whether he may have gone a shade too far in some of his potentially provocative comments to and about the Soviets.
Within the White House there is keen awareness of this potential erosion in the public view of the President. White House aides point to polls which show Reagan's performance rating still is high. But they will concede that this is, indeed, a crucial moment for the President - when his initiatives must begin to show results if public doubts are not to take over.
Most vexing to the President's insiders is the foot-dragging by Republicans on Capitol Hill. Reagan fashioned his earlier, really spectacular victories with a coalition where Republicans gave him almost 100 percent backing. Now some of these Republicans, in both houses, are straying.
They, too, ''like'' Reagan and will tell you he's quite a President. But they are beginning to express reservations about Reagan initiatives, particularly those related to the budget.
Is the President cutting defense enough? Is he cutting too deeply into social programs? Have his tax trims been too much - should the second installment be postponed? GOP doubters in Congress, reflecting the public perception in their ambivalence about their President, are becoming Reagan's chief political problem.
Now here's the President's stunning come-from-behind victory on the AWACS sale. As a persuader Reagan once again was superlative. And his performance will doubtless add a few points to his next poll rating.
But most people never did understand the complexities of the AWACS transaction. They just knew the President said he wanted it - and needed it. And that other public figures said he shouldn't have it. They were, by and large, baffled by the issue - adding to their growing bewilderment over what the President is doing across the board.