For the delicate and frought-with-risk 77- day lame-duck interval President Carter promised Ronald Reagan that he would help provide "the best transition in history."
He referred, in his farewell greeting to campaign supporters here, to the extraordinary transition period in American government, unique among democracies , when the old President still presides, the new President hasn't taken over, and there are in effect two heads of state. It last until noon, inaugural day, Jan. 20.
Decisions now suddenly press down upon the new President-elect: for example, the lame-duck session of Congress meets here next week to try to write a budget that Ronald Reagan is supposed to carry out; in somewhat the same way a brusque official warning came to the still uninstalled Reagan form Peking telling him not to resume diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Scenes of jubilation, sorrow, and ultimate fulfillment characterized the ritual final hours of the landslide election of the 40th President.
Without waiting for the polls to close, Jimmy Carter, in one of his most moving and graceful appearances, made his concession speech, hailing Walter Mondale as "the best vice-president in history," promising his conqueror, Governor Reagan, his "fullest support," and even managing a tearful touch of humor: "I promised you four years ago never to lie to you," he recalled, "so I can't stand here and say it doesn't hurt."
John Anderson, leader of the National Unity party, came later from another forum, while millions watched on television. He was cheerful and had something to be cheerful about. Returns indicated that he had won over 5 percent of the popular vote which makes him eligible for federal campaign funding, desperately needed for his reported $5 million debt. And he gave his lively audience something to cheer about: "The returns clearly show I am not destined to be the next President of the United States" -- (pause) -- "that is a decision deferred."
The started crowd instantly caught the hint and began changing "'84, '84, '84 ."
The next election has already begun.
Finally, after most Eastern viewers had gone to bed, jubilant Ronald Wilson Reagan, former actor, former governor of California, in a simple and moving pledge promised to "seize the historic opportunity to change things" and declared, "We're going to put America back to work again."
The call from President Carter, conceding defeat, had reached the GOP challenger at his Pacific Palisades, Calif., home just as he was getting out of the shower. Again it was another of the unifying notes that follow America's sometimes bitter campaigns. "He graciously offered me his cooperation," he told the victory rally, speaking of President Carter. "And I accepted it. We both want a smooth transition." Cheers and applause followed.
Yet even while hats of supporters are flying in air, the successful presidential candidate finds that his first great crisis -- the transition -- has begun. Governor Reagan is learning in the hour of victory that the presidency is a lonely place. With the lame-duck Congress soon assembling to hear from him on the budget, and with the White House weighed by the Iranian hostage crisis and the frozen funds, and with Senate ratification of the SALT II treaty still undecided, Washington cries for direction from the newly elected leader.
In former transitions from one party to another in the White House, there has been an almost desperate call for a representative of the President-elect to come to Washington as a plenitentiary of the new regime. Failure to reach an accord in 1933 between Hoover and Roosevelt deepened the financial crisis so the ultimately every US bank closed.
At the present time Washington isn't quite sure whether Richard V. Allen, once described as Reaganhs "senior foreign policy adviser," still holds that position. Urgency rises from uncertainty over Moscow's reactio to prospective defeat of the SALT II nuclear arms control agreement. Also Peking has forwarded a brutally frank warning to Washington, with the President-elect as the obvious target, not to recognize Taiwan or to proceed on a two-China policy.
In the hyperbole of the campaign it is easy to promise to put America back to work by an acorss-the-board 10 percent income tax for three successive years. In the reality of being President-elect concrete plans have to be worked out, and Congress approached.
The choice between various kinds of presidency is apt to become visible at once. Under a glare of publicity such as he has never known before the President-elect is the most exposed and lonely main in the nation.