Reagan: reigning in GOP factions
Arlington, Va. — As the Reagan camp prepares for its battle with the Democratic presidential nominee this fall, the former California governor appears to have successfully harnessed into one team three headstrong political horses.
And this success has impressed political observers in Washington.
These three power centers -- the Republican National Committee (RNC), Republicans in Congress, and the Reagan campaign staff itself -- had been sites of strife, maneuvering for powers as Mr. Reagan's nomination became assured.
But Mr. Reagan dealth with a right-wing attempt to oust moderate RNC chairman Bill Brock by retaining Mr. Brock and adding Reagan deputy Drew Lewis as an aide to the GOP chairman and link to the campaign. Then, he fashioned a GOP tax-cut proposal with Republicans in Congress last week.
"It's impressive, when we're supposed to be seeing the decline of the political parties, to see this coming together of a candidate and his party on the Hill," says Thomas Mann, a congressional affairs analyst.
"Reagan showed himself a conciliator, a man who works off a consensus of people under him," says Stephen Wayne, presidential scholar at George Washington University. "His style apparently will be to work with, not take over, existing political forces."
"The most striking feature of what has emerged is the cooperation of the Hill and the campaign," says David Gergen, managing editor of Public Opinion and a Ford administration veteran. "The ability to coordinate plans of attack, to put forward a plan like the tax cut, has been missing in Washington the last 3 1/2 years.
"This should be reassuring to people who have seen Reagan as a divisive person."
Mr. Reagan's meshing of RNC, Hill, and campaign operations has left him with a committee structure that some Republicans and observers think may prove unwieldy.
Each morning, seven top campaign deputies, with former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman William Casey presiding, will meet here in Arlington at Reagan headquarters -- an otherwise ordinary small office building on the far side of the Pentagon, across the Potomac River from the White House.
William Timmons, the latest addition to the seven as political director, reflects Mr. Reagan's care in structuring his team. Mr. timmons for six years was the top congressional liaison between Presidents Ford and Nixon. He is also a close personal friend of RNC chairman Brock.
"Timmons is smart," Mr. Mann says. "He was very operational on the Hill -- not ideologically blind."
"But bill timmons has never brought together a national campaign," Mr. Mann adds. Mr. Timmons national political experience was limited to managing the conventions for Presidents Nixon and ford. As Mr. Reagan's national political director, he would be responsible for the separate campaigns in all 50 states, managing the candidate's campaign schedules and other details.
Mr. Reagan still must successfully pass two other major tests, observers say: picking a running mate and establishing links with another Republican power center farther up the East Coast -- the Wall Street, internationalist moderate wing who backed George Bush during the primaries and now shows signs of defecting to independent John Anderson.
The Reagan vice-presidential "short list" tries to flatter the spectrum of GOP factions. The conservative West is represented by Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, Mr. Reagan's national co-chairman and key spokesman on the Hill. Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. and former UN Ambassador George Bush carry Washington experience, with Mr. Bush and adding link to eastern GOP internationalists. The Midwest has Michigan's convention keynoter, Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, and Illinoi's Donald Rumsfeld, regarded as an extremely able executive. Youth and conservative closeness to Mr. Reagan are represented in Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York. New York banker William Simon, like Mr. Rumsfeld, is seen as strong and dynamic.
Picking a vice-president is the most critical decision Mr. Reagan faces between now and November, Mr. Gergen says.
There is no consensus in Washington on the likely choice. Mr. Lugar is seen as coming up fast. Mr. Simmon is still in the running, though some think he is too assertive. Mr. Bush is still regarded as former President Ford's favorite. Mr. Baker has strong backing as a prudent choice, and Mr. Kemp is seen as the candidate's own "sentimental favorite."
"Almost any of them will be acceptable to the public," Mt. Gergen says. But how Mr. Reagan decides will be watched for signs of whether his ideological drive or the conciliatory side will prevail.