In July 1979, with Americans steaming in both physical and mental frustration in thousands of gasoline pump lines from "sea to shining sea," President Carter's ratings in public opinion polls reached new depths. Not even in Harry Truman's worst days were his ratings in the polls as far down as were those of Mr. Carter.
In his distress Mr. Carte finally paid some attention to the advice he had been getting for months from the elder statesmen of the Democratic Party. He brought into the White House a few Washington "insiders." Chief among them was Lloyd Cutler, Washington lawyer and protege of Clark Clifford who has advised Democratic presidents since the Truman era and is considered the wisest of the party's elders. Mr. Carter also invited Hedley Donovan, senior editor of time magazine, to join the White House staff as an adviser.
On the surface it appeared for a brief moment that Mr. Carter, who had come to Washington as an "outsider," might be turning to the experienced "insiders" for help in trying to rescue his administration.
But the turn never became decisive or effective. At the same time that Mr. Carter brought in Messrs. Cutler and Donovan, and a few other persons with experience in government and administration, he also elevated Hamilton Jordan to the official post of White House chief of staff. Mr. Jordan had come to Washington from Georgia with Mr. Carter and, like his boss, never became a Washington insider. He stayed on, loyal to the end and always a primary adviser and a dominant influence.
Mr. Donovan wandered about the White House for a while. He proferred some advice, but he was seldom consulted and his advice was seldom heeded. After a while he just didn't bother to return to the White House. It was a waste of his time.
Mr. Cutler did stay to the end, but he was not used as a major adviser. He was given difficult jobs, usually the ones calling for legal knowledge and experience. He became a valued "trouble shooter" but he did not become what Clark Clifford intended, a substitute for the Georgians as senior advisers.
Ronald Reagan is playing his opening hand in exactly the opposite way. He has been in office two weeks. He is already a horror story to the radical right wingers, to the neoconservatives, and to the religious right. The Republican outsiders who expected to ride into Washington from the fundamentalist bastions of the nation were invited for the inauguration fiesta but not invited to stay in high office.
They have gone back because Mr. Reagan is staffing his White House, and his administration, for the most part with men of experience in government, usually gained during the Nixon-Ford years. With General Haig at the State of Department, Caspar Weinberger at Defense, and Donald Regan at Treasury the main post in the Cabinet are in the hands of precisely the type of person Mr. Carter rejected. Not a one of the big three, and very few among the others in lesser Cabinet posts and at second and third levels of power, come from the ideological branches of the Republican family.
The superhawks who would double the military budget if they could, the radio preachers, the anti-abortionists, the pro- Taiwan fundamentalists have waited in vain for the summons to government service. It even seems possible at the time this is being written that Mr. Reagan will retain as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. David C. Jones who owes his original appointment to Mr. Carter and who committed the sin, in hawkish eyes, of having accepted Mr. Carters's cancellation of the B-1 bomber. His dismissal is being demanded from the militant right of the party, but he is currently on Capitol Hill with new Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.
Mr. Reagan is not staffing either his own White House office or the top levels of his administration with ideologues. He is staffing with competant professionals from the regular Republican establishment. That includes Mr. Reagan at Treasury who comes from Wall Street.
The result is that conservative columnists Evans and Novak ask, apprehensively, "Can Reaganism without Reaganites survive as government policy?" It's a good question. The answer is that the oratorical Reaganism of the campaign will probably be discarded by President Reagan as lightly as oratorical Reaganism was discarded when it was deemed necessary or prudent during the days of his governorship in California.
That probability dismays the ideologues of the party, but it comes as a great relief to the experienced elders of the party. A friend who has labored many years for the welfare of the party remarked after the election, "If he does in office what he has said he would do during the campaign the Democrats will come back in a walk in 1984, and be in office for the next generation." My wise Republican friend feels much better about his party's prospects now that he has seen the list of Reagan appointments. This is not going to be an administration by outsiders, as was the Carter disaster.