GOP grows restive as '84 nears
President Reagan's reluctance to adapt fully and quickly enough to changing economic circumstances could soon lead to a challenge for the Republican nomination, GOP professionals say.Skip to next paragraph
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Democratic hopefuls are already on the campaign trail. Next Wednesday, Sen. Alan Cranston of California is scheduled to be the first to announce his candidacy. Mr. Reagan has ''two or three months'' to avoid an open split in the ranks of his own party, Republican strategists say.
The Democrats have sketched in their own 1983 and '84 timetable. During the first six months, they'll set up a legislative platform that portrays them as a party of alternative ideas. Key Democrats on important congressional committees will initiate or shepherd through bills to fill out a Democratic agenda through next fall. In early '84 the presidential campaign will be in full swing. The Democrats ambitiously hope to have a comprehensive program - featuring tax reform, research and development, education, energy, defense, and arms control - backing up their contenders.
Members of both parties have concluded that Reagan may rhetorically be signaling change, but is actually hewing tightly to the policies and principles of his first two years. Bipartisanship is apt to prevail, but it will prevail more among lawmakers on Capitol Hill than between Capitol Hill and the White House, legislators say. Both parties want some record of progress to run on in 1984, and they fear a stalemate with the White House could impede that progress.
The Democrats remain handicapped by the lack of a single spokesman, their GOP counterparts say. Democrats counter that their congressional effort, featuring people who aren't active candidates, will give their presidential contenders more time to get better known before coming under attack for specific proposals.
But it's the warning of a challenge developing within the President's own party that political professionals here, who asked to remain anonymous, find most arresting.
''Reagan waits too long, responds too little,'' says one GOP official, a veteran of Reagan campaigns. ''He is creating a situation where the patience of those he must lead is diminishing.''
Another Republican official - a Reagan loyalist - puts it more bluntly: ''I have felt for a long time that Ronald Reagan was going to be a one-term president. What Ronald Reagan is trying to establish is his role in the party as the person best able to articulate the philosophies and ultimate goals of Republicans.
''He will compromise, as he did in California when dealing with the Democratic Legislature. But his compromises will come very late and they will be the absolute minimumsm - just enough to squeak through.
''He is going to hold the course, with the same supply-side emphasis - keeping taxes in line and cutting them this next fiscal year, increasing taxes only if Congress comes along with some other cuts in spending.
''He doesn't care whether it plays politically or not. The concern is he's going to face a tremendous backlash internally. In the Senate alone you have 18 or 19 guys who went with him his first two years. But if they don't see significant changes of direction the next two or three months, they will be openly advocating some splits and going their own direction.