The Carter administration's failure to be conciliatory to the Kennedy forces is playing right into the hands of Kennedy strategists. According to sources close to these strategists, Kennedy forces planned to set the stage for possible confrontation at the Democratic National Convention. And the unbending position of the President's platform team has helped leave open the possibility of such a conflict.
"Kennedy isn't really sure what he's going to do yet at the convention," says one of these sources. "But the President's lack of 'give' on the platform is just what Kennedy hoped for. It leaves the door open for a wide, across-the-board challenge of Carter on the issues when we get to New York in August."
Actually, the President's representatives were forced to give ground on the issue of nuclear power -- the closest Carter and Kennedy camps came to a platform "compromise." A coalition, including the Campaign for Safe Energy (an antinuclear lobby), other antinuclear forces at the hearings, and Kennedy forces , won a change in a Carter-backed, generaly pronuclear plank. The revised plank calls for the shutdown of all existing nuclear power stations as alternative sources of energy become available.
But the plank also would permit the continued operation of nuclear plants and the construction of 90 or more now ones during the 1980s.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's strategy, sources say, hinges on several considerations: Mr. Carter's standing in the national polls still must be low at convention time (a recent Gallup poll recorded a 33 percent drop in his rating), and the President must still trail Ronald Reagan in the polls.
Beyond these factors, there must be "something in the air -- a climate of displeasure among the delegates at large which indicates they are ready to jettison Mr. Carter as a candidate."
If this unhappiness over the President is present and if the polls show (which they now do not) that Mr. Kennedy has a better chance than Mr. Carter to beat Mr. Reagan, then the confrontation will be designed to bring about a Kennedy candidacy.
But if Senator kennedy still lags behind President Carter and Mr. Reagan in the polls, then the Kennedyites may well get behind an effort to throw the convention wide open in hopes of choosing an alternative candidate.
Kennedy sources say the confrontation, if it occurs, will center on issues such as the size of the military budget, money allocated for domestic problems, and whether economic policy is to concentrate on unemployment or inflation.