Former President Gerald Ford is feeling intense pressure to call upon the party to unite behind Ronald Reagan in the interest of helping to bring about a Republican presidential victory in the fall.
Now Jim Baker, George Bush's campaign manager, is expressing anxiety that Mr. Ford might do precisely this, although at the same time adding:
"We don't think he [Mr. Ford] will do this. He has always said he wouldn't endorse, that he would let the [primary] process go forward."
Mr. Baker said that in just the last few days he had conversations "with the Ford people" in which he had made a pitch to see to it that Mr. Ford "did not cave in to this Reagan-connected pressure."
Mr. Baker indicated that it would be very difficult for Mr. Bush to carry on with his campaign if the former president made this plea for unity.
From information gleaned from sources close to Mr. Ford, his position seems to be this:
* He still would very much like to be the nominee -- and he still sees himself as having a mathematical chance, however slight. Should Mr. Bush gain enough ground on Mr. Reagan that the convention sought a third alternative, the reasoning goes, Mr. Ford might be asked to carry the party banner in the fall.
Meanwhile, the Reagan people are prepared to offer Mr. Ford a few carrots as they push for his endorsement.
For example, it is understood they are hinting that the reward for early backing from Mr. Ford might be translated later into a key Cabinet appointment.
Even a Ford-vice presidential slot is being hinted by some key Republicans in the Reagan camp. Mr. Ford already has appeared to rule out this possibility by s aying it would be unconstitutional to have both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates residing in the same state (California).
But Reagan people point that Mr. Ford could wriggle out of this merely by moving away, perhaps back to Michigan.
Mr. Baker, in a breakfast meeting with reporters on May 5, expressed hope that the Bush campaign would do well enough in the remaining primaries -- particularly in new Jersy, Ohio, Michigan, Oregon, and California -- to stage a big comeback.
But Mr. Baker also disclosed that his faint victory hopes were tied directly to the ability of the Bush camp to raise about $600,000 "in the next nine days." These funds, together with the matching federal funds they would generate, would give Mr. Bush about $1 million to throw into an intensive effort to win the California primary.