GOP leaves Detroit determined to ride new unity to victory

Both the presidential nominee and the Republican Party leave the 1980 convention here far better off politically than in 1976. This is an assessment that veteran observers were making even as they, the delegates, and voters at large were seeking to measure the full impact of the way Ronald Reagan selected his running mate.

Four years ago Gerald Ford's candidacy emerged out of a badly divided convention. Many Reaganites departed the Kansas City arena with the avowed intention of refusing to help the Ford campaign.

Furthermore, Mr. Ford was some 30 percentage points behind Jimmy Carter in the polls.

No one needs to be reminded that, despite these handicaps, Mr. Ford came within a hair of beating Mr. Carter.

Now, with the help of this relatively united convention, Reagan's prospects are, indeed, very bright -- though doubtless dimmed a bit, at least at first, by the confusion and tumult that surrounded the selection of the vice-presidential nominee.

Even though many delegates, far-right conservatives as well as progressives, held strongly expressed reservations about the platform, there was little evidence that many, if any, would go so far as to bolt the party -- and Mr. Reagan -- in the fall.

For example, US Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, a leading supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, says she is an enthusiastic backer of Mr. Reagan.

Mrs. Kassebaum told a group of reporters over breakfast here July 16 that Mr. Reagan would need to "take the issue a step forward during his campaign," to make it perfectly clear that he is a strong women's rights advocate. She said she was confident the Californian would do precisely that.

So the bitter division of 1976 is over. Gerald Ford's speech to the convention showed that he was willing to let bygones be bygones -- that he was ready to involve himself vigorously in the Reagan campaign.

Now, even though Ford declined to become Reagan's running mate, he has committed himself again and even more forcefully to an all-out effort in behalf of the GOP nominee.

The tension between Ford and Reagan stemming from their 1976 rivalry had lasted through the 1980 primary season. Soon after losing to Carter in November 1976, Ford let it be known that he resented Reagan's failure to give him strong support in the campaign. But Reagan always maintained that he would have done more for Ford if he had been asked.

The two men may never become "buddies." But it now is clear that, although they did not find a way to run together, they have come together politically.

This was reflected by the behavior of their supporters here: Ford and Reagan people were mingling in a very friendly way. In fact, many of the Reagan delegates had been for Ford in 1976.

Henry Kissinger's meeting with Reagan earlier in the week, and his speech Tuesday night before the convention, were also symbols of the coming together of the Ford and Reagan factions.

Ford has always maintained that his secretary of state was a great public servant. Reagan has been highly critical of Dr. Kissinger.

Some observers thought that Reagan delegates would boo Dr. Kissinger when he appeared at the convention rostrum. They didn't. Instead, they gave their old adversary a quiet but rather warm welcome.

It was interesting. The victorious Reaganites were not going to turn their backs on unity and possible victory the way Goldwater delegates did in 1964, when they attacked Nelson Rockefeller. Instead, they listened politely to the man who once had been Rockefeller's adviser on foreign affairs and who so often has carried forward foreign policy they disagreed with.

What if Mr. Reagan would change his mind about Kissinger and make him his secretary of state? One sensed that the Reagan people across the nation might protest a bit, but that even this would not cause the Reagan conservatives to "take a walk."

As one very conservative Reagan delegate said: "I've worked so hard to get Reagan the nomination that there isn't anything he would do that would cause me not to support him." This was her answer when asked how she would respond to George Bush being named Reagan's running mate.

Will "moderate" Republicans around the US be alienated by the conservative thrust of this week's convention?

"No," say veteran observers here. The Republican divisions that contributed to the resounding defeat of Barry Goldwater by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 will be avoided, they say, simply because the American people as a whole have moved rightward -- on economic matters, on defense, on attitudes relating to crime and morality, and on what is perceived to be a need for the US to reclaim global respect.

Another way of putting it is that GOP moderates will, as they have at the convention, be able to "live" with Reagan and the party platform simply because they have embraced many of the conservative ideas they disliked or found irrelevant in 1964.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.