For Reagan, '87 was a grueling year. Arms control offers chance to recoup losses
The White House wears a tired but cautiously triumphant smile as the new year is ushered in. What started out as a grim state of affairs for Ronald Reagan at the beginning of 1987 ended on a note of creditable achievement. ``We had nowhere to go but up,'' said a senior presidential aide after the recent successful superpower summit.Skip to next paragraph
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It is hard to imagine a rockier year for President Reagan - from the Iran-contra scandal and the Wall Street market collapse to a drag-out battle with Congress over nomination of a Supreme Court justice. Add, too, the personal and health problems of Nancy Reagan, who plays an important role in her husband's political as well as personal well-being.
``It's not been a great year,'' the First Lady told the Associated Press. ``It's been the lowest I think you can get.''
When January 1987 rolled in, it looked as if the presidency was beginning to unravel. In the wake of the Iran-contra revelations, Mr. Reagan was under widespread attack for his detachment from policymaking and management and for letting the executive branch run amok. His job-approval rating had dropped by almost one-third before inching back up to about the 50 percent mark.
Today the President is enjoying something of a political comeback because of the successful summit. The latest polls show his job-approval rating running between 56 and 62 percent. That is better than the standing of many previous presidents in the final year of their administrations.
``In terms of Reagan's capacity to function within Congress and the Washington community in order to govern, it was a particularly bad year,'' comments Everett C. Ladd, executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. ``But in terms of public support, I don't see it as particularly bad.''
While the Iran-contra affair dominated much of the year, Reagan took his big lump on the scandal when the Tower Commission report came out in February. Its conclusions were devastating: Reagan in effect conducted an arms-for-American hostages policy in his covert arms dealings with Iran, directly violating official US policy. He was described as ignorant of facts and detached from the policy process. Aides and subordinates were criticized for failing to engage the President and disregarding the National Security Council process as well as various laws.
Political damage control began with a reorganization of the White House. With the encouragement of Mrs. Reagan, the President replaced White House chief of staff Donald Regan with former Sen. Howard Baker Jr., and Frank Carlucci, an experienced Washington insider, replaced John Poindexter as national-security adviser. The new team set out to rescue the beleaguered presidency.
Reagan himself addressed the nation, telling the American people he accepted responsibility for the affair. But he refused to disavow the arms initiative as wrong from the outset. And in a press conference in March he continued to maintain that he knew nothing about the diversion of arms profits to the Nicaraguan contras.
``They just didn't tell me what was going on,'' he commented later about his aides.
Public tunes out Iran-contra