GOP ferment too

Most eyes may be on the Democrats, getting ready for their San Francisco convention next week under the big question marks of whom Mondale will choose for a running mate and when.

But the Republicans too have their ferment, despite the certainty of the top of the ticket and the self-evident advantages of White House incumbency.

The deepest Republican ferment revolves around foreign policy - in the President's Cabinet, the White House, and on Capitol Hill. It could very well be this unsettledness in the future of Reagan foreign policy that the Soviets are now exploring with their offer to meet in Vienna in September to discuss space arms.

Secretary of State George Shultz is off to Asia for two weeks, touching bases again in the administration's Pacific outreach, a heavily economic-oriented program. President Reagan earlier had to cut some of the key Pacific nations out of his itinerary. Vice-President George Bush and United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick have been there recently, and Mr. Shultz apparently wants to pump up his own visibility as secretary of state, with the jockeying already under way for lead posts in a second Reagan administration.

Mr. Shultz has been doing rather well of late, if prevailing in the direction of policy is the measure. In exploring the Kremlin's opening on space arms and softening the edges of Central American policy, Shultz has made himself more visible. Election year easing back from confrontation may be one factor. But whatever the reason, Mrs. Kirkpatrick and her harder-line allies in the Department of Defense have seen the winds blowing the other way in recent weeks. How hard the infighting has been was indicated by the President's having to order the Pentagon itself to be ready for potential arms talks in September - one wonders what they've been doing the past 31/2 years?

In the Senate, the President could face a more ideological leadership within his own party if he is reelected. Senate majority leader Howard Baker will retire after this term to prepare for his own presidential bid in 1988. Baker has taken a rather independent position of his own on US-Soviet relations, guiding the White House toward moderation. Either of the two top contenders for Baker's post, Ted Stevens of Alaska and Richard Lugar of Indiana, could take a more confrontational line. Lugar is interested in the academic side of studying Soviet relations, but he also can dig in his ideological heels. What kind of effort Stevens and Lugar will make in coming months to endear themselves to Senate hard-liners simply isn't known.

The top two Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are up for reelection this year, and both are in cliffhanger races - committee chairman Charles Percy of Illinois, a moderate, and next-in-line Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a conservative known for obstructionist legislative tactics.

Typically, President Reagan is keeping his own counsel in this period of internal jockeying and external indeterminacy in foreign policy. But it would be a mistake for the public to think that Walter Mondale alone has a contentious party house to put in order. The more important maneuvering may be within the GOP.

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