Right-wing pressures on the President
One of the most intriguing questions involving the President is what he will do about top-level personnel after the election. His director of communications, David Gergen, says relatively few changes will be made. And he emphasizes that the President ''hasn't even focused'' on that problem as yet - and won't until sometime in November.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
However, another key presidential aide sees it this way: If Republicans do fairly well in the election, the President will make very few changes. But if they are really trounced by the Democrats, look for the President to make considerably more changes. And if the results are interpreted as a Republican disaster, then look for a major shake-up in the administration.
The chief pressures on the President for reshuffling his top personnel come from the GOP's right wing. These ultraconservatives are unhappy with Reagan's cutting of arms sales to Taiwan, tax increases, and what they see as a less-than-sufficient push behind his commitment for school prayer and anti-abortion legislation. And they are convinced that the President's falloff from his conservative course has been brought about by an enemy in the Reagan camp: what they call the ''George Bush people.''
The right-wing groups can't ''get'' the vice-president, of course. So the man they are after is Bush's former campaign manager, James Baker, who sits at Reagan's right hand as chief of staff.
Never mind that Reagan's shifts in policy are clearly his own, made by a President who is turning out to be more of a pragmatist than an ideologue. Never mind that on the issues Reagan listens mainly to his cabinet chiefs, his secretaries of state, defense, and treasury - together with GOP leaders in Congress.
Never mind, too, that Baker's role has been administrative and that his main contribution has come as a tactician in dealings with Congress. Baker's part in winning the President's economic victories on the Hill has been exceedingly important - and hailed as such by Mr. Reagan. But Baker as a shaper of Reagan policy? He's simply not, as those close to the White House scene put it, ''in the policymaking loop.''
Bush himself buried his differences with the President when he accepted the vice-presidential nomination. He even became an all-out supporter of supply-side economics, a theory he had decried during the campaign.
The most visible of the Bush people in the administration are Baker and Gergen. Actually, all of them, including Bush, might more accurately be called ''Ford people.'' That would also include deputy press secretary Larry Speakes.
But the Reagan loyalists who surround the President, including Messrs. Meese, Deaver, and Clark, are not criticizing the Bush element in their midst. Instead they now see Bush and his friends as Reagan people. Rea-gan and Bush have become close personal friends. And Reagan finds Baker completely supportive - and extremely able.
There is growing talk in Washington, however, that the conservative right wing is leaning particularly heavily on the President these days, urging that he weed out the Bush element. Veteran presidential watchers contend that in order to pacify these conser-vatives he will have to give them somebody. And right now , these close observers of White House politics say, this ''sacrificial lamb'' will likely be David Gergen - if it can't be Baker himself.
Gergen is talking about leaving. After six years, four with previous administrations, Gergen sounds as though he might like to do something else for awhile. But he has to know that the long knives of conservative right-wingers are out after him. And his decision to leave, should it come about, might well take this into account.
Gergen is highly valued by the press. Among some reporters, he is regarded as irreplaceable. No one else in the White House regularly supplies the news media, and through them the public, with insights into the thinking, planning, and strategy behind Rea-gan's principal initiatives.
Gergen may remain. Baker wants him to stay. And, should Republicans do well this fall, Reagan will be able to resist right-wing pressure. But some White House insiders say that a bad Republican defeat this fall might end up with Gergen leaving and Baker moving to some other administration post, perhaps in the Cabinet, where conservatives would see him as less likely to wield powerful influence on the President.