John Sears on Ronald Reagan
Washington — There are few -- very few -- nonpublic figures in the city who can induce the capital's top reporters to get out of bed near the crack of dawn just to hear them expound on politics.
Richard Scammon is one of them. So is Ben Wattenberg.
And now John Sears, lately of the Reagan campaign and before that with strong links to Presidents Ford and Nixon, has shown his ability to persuade a lot of press people to get up earlier than they'd like just to hear his wisdom.
The still-youngish Mr. Sears is widely credited with guiding Ronald Reagan to within a hair of gaining the GOP nomination in 1976.
Further, Sears is generally perceived as the adviser whose political blueprint has carried Reagan to where he is today -- even though Reagan discarded Sears a while back and for reasons that still aren't entirely clear.
Mr. Sears, who appears to harbor no bad feeling toward Mr. Reagan ("It was his right to get rid of me"), expresses some interesting views and political concepts worth recording:
Q. Can Ronald Reagan win in the fall?
A. "Yes. If he doesn't make an unrecoverablw mistake -- and if he can become more precise.
"Reagan has very good general instincts on the issues.His built-in antennae alert him quickly when he may be saying something he should not say -- or something that would damage him a great deal. So he quickly backs off.
"Thus, you will have, as you have had already, a lot of Reagan backing off, saying, 'I didn't quite say that -- you had it wrong,' and so forth. This is giving him a reputation for lack of depth. Now a good staff can take care of a good deal of this. But he's going to have to have more precision. The voters demand this of a presidential candidate. I would say Reagan's largest problem is in this area of imprecision."
Q. Is Reagan still your choice?
A. "Yes. Out of all the candidates that have been running this year, I would still pick Reagan."
Q. Would Reagan make a good president?
A. "The presidency is the residium of a [words illegible ] in the last decade have tended to use this power without delegating to others as much as they should.
"Reagan doesn't have this hangup about having to use all the power himself. He has shown that he likes to bring in good people around him and them delegate reponsibilities. This is a great asset in a leader -- this ability to get good people around you and use them."
Q. What principal problem would Reagan face as president?
A. "Reagan's main difficulty would come from his not having a lot of time in Washington. As a President you need to be able to understand the personalities you have to deal with -- to be able to get these people to work with you and be able, at times, to know them well enough to know how to beat them."
Q. But is Reagan up to the job?
A. "I don't think we have as good a group of men running for president -- any of them -- as we need today. We just don't get the kind of men I think the kinds of problems we have now require. When you think of all we need to do in the next 10 years and those available to do it -- you can get very discouraged."
Q. Why aren't we getting better people running for president?
A. "It's because of the way we elect our [word illegible] tests their ability to run -- their endurance, their ability to get ahead early and catch momentum so no one can catch them.
"It was better before reform took over. At least we used to have some veteran party leaders who would know the people running well enough so that they could say whether or not they would make a good president."
Q. How intelligent is Reagan?
A. "Reagan is not a stupid man by any means. Now Nixon could be very bright on policy but he was inadequate in dealing with people. But Reagan does well in dealing with people.
Reagan, as president, would go by this general instincts as opposed to absorbing it all in detail.And he would listen to his advisers. Nixon would go into matters down to their tiniest details and then go ahead on a decision that nobody advised."
Q. Which candidate is damaged more by an Anderson candidacy -- Carter or Reagan?
Q. "A lot of people think it would hurt Carter more -- but I'm not so sure. Anderson would sop up some violent anti-Carter foes that might otherwise go to Reagan. So then Reagan would be hurt more than Carter."