Now that it's all over
Washington — Now that it's all over -- or seems to be -- you can put your hand blindly into a hat and pick out a dozen different opinions as to how things stand. I offer the following:
On how the system worked:m It worked exactly as it was intended to work. Some 22 million Republican and Democratic voters participated in a sequence of 37 state-by-state primaries. The Republican rank-and-file showed overwhelmingly that they wanted Ronald Reagan as their nominee and the Democrats voted decisively for the renomination of President Jimmy Carter. They showed pretty clearly that they did not want Sen. Edward Kennedy in the White House. This was majority rule at work in the nominating process. I have no doubt that the verdict of the two conventions will follow the verdict of the primaries.
On voter dissatisfaction with the outcome:m In all the nomination contests I have witnessed and covered from 1936 until this year, I have never seen such widespread dismay with the ultimate choice which the nation will have to make this fall. In polls taken as voters exited from the booths in the primaries, even those who chose the President said overwhelmingly they disapproved of the way he was handling the nation's major problems.
At the same time many prominent Republicans have honest doubts as to whether Mr. Reagan is adequately experienced and intellectually qualified for the presidency. The tendency is to assume that something has gone badly awry with American presidential politics or that there is a dearth of competence now afflicting the country. Neither is true. The new primary system produced the 1980 nominees and enabled Jimmy Carter to win the nomination in 1976, and as an incumbent President his renomination was a near certainty. It is the considered judgment of many analysts that if there had been open, uninstructed conventions from the start, they might choose Walter Mondale or Edmund Muskie and either Howard Baker or George Bush.
I am not arguing the validity of the dissatisfaction with the 1980 nominees, but it exists to an unusually high degree. If we are getting near the point when the public wants to do something about it, no change in the law is needed. It is open to the political parties to change their own method of nomination.
On Senator Kennedy's chances:m He keeps talking as though he thought he were still in the race. He isn't. It's all over for him this year. He is making a cute appeal that both he and the President release their delegates so they can vote on the first ballot for whomever they wish. It is easy for him to propose release of his delegates when he hasn't enough to nominate him, but it is far-fetched to think that Carter should release his when he has far more than needed to win on the first ballot.
And why should Mr. Kennedy assume that, if there was an open convention and no delegates committed to any candidate, it would make him the nominee? It wouldn't.
If the convention wanted to reject Carter, who received the most votes and won the majority of the delegates, it would not likely turn to one who was a poor second. It would turn elsewhere as did the Democratic convention of 1952 when it ignored the many primary victories of Sen. Estes Kefauver and chose Adlai Stevenson who had not even entered one primary.
On Kennedy's miscalculation:m If his early supporters, who were so eager to get him to run against Mr. Carter, had perceived that the popularity of the Kennedy name did not guarantee popularity as a presidential candidate, they might never have pushed him into it. It was bad political judgment. They pleaded with him to announce and unanimously assured him it was to be a one-sided contest.
He did. It was -- one-sided for Carter.
Kennedy himself misjudged the abiding doubts about the unanswered questions after the Chappaquiddick accident. He erroneously assumed that more of the traditional New Deal liberalism -- bigger government and bigger spending -- was just what the American people wanted. He seemed like a young man of the past. During the early weeks he was a hesitant, fumbling campaigner. He just wasn't ready.
He may be more ready to try again in 1984 unless the rancor and divisiveness he has created within the Democratic Party and his denigration of President Carter's policies as "inhumane," "incoherent," and "incompetent" has not already thrown away the election.