Fullerton, Calif. — Ronald Reagan, exhibiting all his political savvy, is winding up the 1988 campaign with a flourish to help George Bush. On the stump and in the Oval Office, President Reagan and his White House staff are going all out to ensure that the GOP remains in control for the next four years.
Historians say Mr. Reagan's performance stands in sharp contrast to that of former President Dwight Eisenhower, who in 1960 gave only luke-warm support to his vice-president, Richard Nixon.
Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Nixon faced a Democratic challenger from Massachusetts. But with only tepid help from his boss, Nixon lost one of the closest elections in American history to John F. Kennedy.
If Mr. Reagan has his way, that won't happen again. The last four days - three of them here in California - illustrate the President's total dedication to the Bush cause.
On Sunday, at a candlelit, black-tie dinner for 1,800 people in Los Angeles, Reagan showed up to accept the Simon Wiesenthal humanitarian award, and assure the heavily Jewish audience that the Reagan-Bush team was solidly behind Israel.
On Monday, with over a dozen Hollywood stars arrayed behind him at a ceremony in Beverly Hills, Reagan signed a law of vital importance to many California voters. It broadens worldwide copyright protection for American artists and computer-software producers.
On Tuesday, Reagan traveled by helicopter to the heart of conservative Orange County, Calif., an area where Bush needs nearly two of every three voters to offset expected Democratic strength in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The President told a cheering crowd of students at California State University, Fullerton, that Bush is a man of ``leadership and vision'' who has ``never let me or the country down.''
On Wednesday, after stops in Nevada and Wisconsin, the President jetted into Ohio, where he was scheduled to exhort another crowd of college students on the importance of a Bush victory over Michael Dukakis.
Fred Greenstein, a political scientist at Princeton University, says there's a wide difference between the support Reagan is giving Bush and what Ike did for Nixon.
President Eisenhower let his vice-president down on two fronts, Dr. Greenstein indicates. Unlike Reagan, Eisenhower failed to keep the economy humming. Nixon had to battle discouraging economic news - whereas Bush is buoyed by the current boom.
Equally as important, Ike gave off bad signals about Nixon, who was seen as second fiddle, a person whose contribution to the White House was little known.
At a press conference, Eisenhower had a perfect opportunity to bolster Nixon's reputation. Instead, he damaged it. Asked by a reporter to give an example of a major idea that Nixon had contributed during eight years as vice-president, Ike responded: ``If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don't remember.''
It was a devastating blow. Eisenhower was embarrassed by it - later trying to laugh off the comment as ``facetious.'' But William Bragg Ewald Jr., a former speech writer for Eisenhower, later wrote that the President was only a lukewarm Nixon supporter.
Contrast that with Reagan and Bush. Reagan gives his vice-president effusive praise. Here in California, he credited Bush with being in charge of the initial planning for the Grenada invasion; of playing a key role in setting the stage for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; and of leading the fight to remove excessive government red tape.
Back in Washington, Reagan's team kept nudging the economy through its longest expansion in history. At critical moments during the campaign, Reagan also put aside his own wishes in favor of Bush's political future - such as when he reluctantly accepted a bill requiring advance notice of plant closings.
Reagan has also proved willing to play rough when it could help Bush. Using themes developed by the Bush campaign, Reagan chides Michael Dukakis for trying ``desperately to hide'' his liberal views.
When that proved impossible, Reagan says, Governor Dukakis tried to associate himself with past Democratic liberals - Harry Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt. But those shoes don't fit, Reagan charges.
Reagan tells crowds that under the Dukakis version of liberalism, ``When they say `opportunity,' they mean `subsidies.' When they say `reducing the deficit,' the mean `raising taxes.' When they say `strong defense,' they mean `cut defense spending.' No wonder their favorite machine is the snow blower.''
Dr. Greenstein says that many GOP political advisers are aware of the problems between Eisenhower and Nixon. In 1960, there was misunderstanding and confusion. They didn't want that to happen again in 1988.
Nixon, for example, at first wanted to go it alone, without much help from Eisenhower. Later, when it became evident that he needed help, Mrs. Eisenhower apparently persuaded Nixon not to ask - she worried about her husband's health. Eisenhower, meanwhile, fumed at not being asked for help as he saw Nixon slipping behind Kennedy.
No such confusion exists this time. For Dukakis, that's bad news.