Issues favor Reagan as his 'de facto' race moves along
The Reagan counterrevolution - aimed at reversing the ever-increasing role of federal government that began with Franklin D. Roosevelt - is still on track as President Reagan's campaign for reelection takes on what appears to be a de facto beginning.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite some congressional resistance, mainly in the House of Representatives , Mr. Reagan's thrust remains undaunted: All social programs are still under intense scrutiny, and the Reagan tax cuts are unimpaired.
And with the economy on the upswing, including, now, even employment, the President is well fortified to go to the voters and tell them: ''I've told you what I would do as President - and I've done it.''
On his promise for a military buildup, the President, again, can speak of fulfilling a commitment. The Democrats and some Republicans talked quite forcefully about trimming the defense budget. But in the end they managed only to slow the growth rate of the budget for this buildup.
The President himself is without one important talking point, however: He promised movement toward balancing the budget. Instead, the federal budget deficit has become even more immense.
Reagan and his economic advisers contend that increased federal revenue, stemming from a strengthened economy, will cut deeply into that deficit. But there is anxiety in Washington, even among some top Reagan aides, that this theory will not work out.
Congressional Democrats have, in recent months, been roaring like lions. But their results thus far has shown them to be pussycats. Reagan is still getting his MX. Also, House votes for a nuclear freeze and against the so-called secret United States war in Nicaragua hardly laid a glove on the President.
But this doesn't mean that all is clear sailing for a President who, in recent national polls, is being given a strong 50-plus percent approval rating for the overall way he is handling his job. Nonetheless, he and his political advisers are grappling with deep concerns:
* Recent Reagan efforts to narrow the gender gap and bring women back into the fold have, up to now, failed. In fact, there is new evidence that the gap is widening. It could become wide enough so that, of itself, this factor could tip the balance in favor of a Democratic challenger next year.
* The black vote, too, is showing no inclination to being softened by recent Reagan blandishments. Blacks, along with many Hispanics, continue to perceive this President as a wealthy man who mainly helps the rich to the disadvantage of the poor.
The Chicago mayoral election showed what a strong registration effort among blacks can do. Texas, in 1982, also was a showplace for the effectiveness of a get-out-the-vote drive among blacks and Hispanics.
Now the Democrats plan to use Texas as their pilot and launch a nationwide effort in 1984 to get out the minority vote. This prospect is chilling to Republican leaders in every state where blacks, Hispanics, or both are in abundance.
* The polls also continue to show the main Democratic challengers, Walter F. Mondale and John Glenn, running even with or beating Reagan if the election were held today. The Reagan people argue that this means little. But they also remember that some Presidents, like FDR and Dwight Eisenhower, were far ahead of potential adversaries as they approached an election year.
The President, however, obviously continues to dominate the political scene in a way that is quite positive, as his backers see it.
The potential big scandal over the use by Reagan people of Carter documents during the 1980 campaign seems to be fading. It wasn't even mentioned at the recent governors' conference.
How Reagan initiatives in Central America are playing politically remains an imponderable. Some polls show that the American people feel a repugnance toward US military involvement there. Yet even Democratic political leaders are conceding that, at least initially, Reagan seems to be nurturing a public perception that he is a tough President.
So it is that, not much more than a year before the November 1984 election, Mr. Reagan seems quite formidable, perhaps unbeatable. But as one of Jimmy Carter's top aides told this reporter a few days ago: ''Don't forget that early in 1980 we thought Reagan would be easier to beat than (George) Bush. He looked very vulnerable for a while. It could happen again.''