Washington — It's said that there's no one more candid than a party leader leaving office - particularly if he feels he's been pushed.
GOP national chairman Richard Richards certainly isn't exiting laughing, as he responds to mounting criticism from within the White House of his performance.
He's obviously more than a little miffed. And he's coming right out and saying whatever is on his mind.
He says that he and the President are still friends. But he thinks he is the victim of unnamed persons in the White House who are not interested in building the party but simply want a glamorous person running it, someone who will spend most of his time making speeches in behalf of reelecting the President.
''I'm in the Ray Bliss mold,'' Mr. Richards says. ''Bliss is my idol.'' Mr. Bliss was the colorless GOP chairman who is generally credited for doing a magnificent job of revitalizing the Republican Party after its decisive defeat in 1964.
Richards says these unnamed White House aides have been unhappy with his recent predictions on congressional races. They think he is too optimistic, he contends. ''I see us losing no more than 10 to 12 seats in the House,'' he says. ''And I see us picking up a net gain of three in the Senate.''
His White House and other Republican critics, he says, are ''posturing'' with their particularly negative election forecasts, providing a lower estimate than what they really think the outcome will be, so Republicans will look good when better results are achieved. But, says Richards, he simply won't posture.
He says he is convinced that Reagan's continued popularity, together with especially attractive GOP candidates and the funds available for those candidates, will be enough to offset, in large part, the economic problems that run in the Democrats' favor.
Richards says it's his opinion that the President will run again. ''I've been with him recently, in the West and in New Jersey,'' he says. ''He looks like he likes to campaign. He obviously likes what he is doing. If he feels he has more to accomplish - he'll run again.
''Also,'' Richards adds, ''I think the idea that Teddy Kennedy might be President would be obnoxious to him - and cause him to run again.''
He says he's certain Kennedy will be the Democratic nominee. Here he gave a sketch of other Democratic possibilities: ''(Former Vice-President Walter F.) Mondale - trying hard and going no place. (Colorado Sen. Gary) Hart - might skyrocket. (Ohio Sen. John) Glenn - solid, positive, but doesn't have the charm of Kennedy.''
Richards concedes that he may have surprised and displeased the President by immediately announcing that he was going to leave his job the first of the year - instead of waiting until after the election to tell of his plans.
He says he talked to the President last week and received the ''signal'' that Mr. Reagan didn't want him back. ''He offered me another position in the administration,'' says Richards, ''which I thought over for an hour or two and then turned down.''
It was after this conversation with Reagan that Richards disclosed both his plans to leave and the criticism from within the White House that had brought about his departure.
''But,'' a reporter asked, ''didn't you damage the Republican campaign by your announcement - which showed the friction and disarray within the party?'' ''No,'' said Richards. Instead, he said, he felt he had improved morale within the party's organization by clearing the air.