Gossip and power in Washington
Washington — This is a city that is continually absorbed with the subject of power. Are the Big Three (Meese, Baker, and Deaver) becoming too powerful? Is Meese playing the role of ''Mr. President'' at times? Is Haig being upstaged by the White House powers? Does Richard Allen really have little influence? Is Weinberger more influential in shaping foreign affairs than Haig?
This is media talk, also party talk, even talk on the street. Some of it borders on gossip. Some of it is simply idle speculation.
Washingtonians love to chatter about ''who is really running things, dear.'' They enjoy dropping little bits of what they assure us is inside information on such items as power plays, transfers of power, behind-the-scenes power, and, in particular, those in power who are falling from grace.
The juiciest conversation, however, deals with conflict. Haig and the President are at odds. Haig and the Big Three are having problems. Haig and Allen are feuding. Haig is on his way out.
Now Haig has set tongues really wagging by charging that some unnamed presidential aide is out to get him, that is running a ''guerrilla campaign'' to discredit him. Allen says, ''Not me.'' Jim Baker says, ''Not me.'' And Haig himself has absolved these prime suspects, leaving the question of ''who did it to Haig?'' the big mystery in Washington.
The President called both Haig and Allen into the Oval Office to discuss ways of ending the controversy. It is understood that the President was in no way accusing Allen of being the culprit.
In fact there is no evidence that Reagan is searching for the guilty party or parties. But he has sent out a clear warning: if there is any further White House-originated sniping at Haig, he will find out who did it and he or they will be fired.
The report, story, rumor, or whatever it was that evidently prompted Haig to counterattack was the allegation that the President was dissatisfied with him and was getting ready to oust him.
One scenario aired by the media had Haig being replaced by Weinberger who, in turn, would be replaced by Meese. National security assistant Richard Allen also was to go in this shuffle. The President heatedly denies that this will happen, going out of his way to praise Haig and indicating his satisfaction with Allen.
But Washington conversation is not all on the adventures of Haig. There now is talk, and at least one story in a major newspaper, that Reagan press aides David Gergen and Larry Speakes are on a collision course. The thesis: since they share some of the same tasks they couldn't possibly get along.
Another new speculation centers on Meese and Baker. Baker, it seems, is pushing Meese out of the way and becoming Reagan's top man in the White House.
How much of all this Washington talk is based on fact? The sifting process is not an easy one and poses a constant challenge for those who are more interested in sober substance than in titillating conversation.
Even Haig may have overreacted and, hence, overstated the attack on him from the White House. There is evidence that several White House aides have indeed been critical of Haig - but not to the point of trying to get him removed. Also, the story that the President was unhappy with Haig and wanting to replace him seems untrue.
Angry sparks, sharp elbows, and perhaps a bitter internal fight had been predicted by some observers when Jim Baker was made chief of staff. Baker had led the Bush primary campaign, during which less than nice things were often said about Reagan. Before long, so the prediction went, Baker, the outsider, would be fighting with Reagan and Reagan's insider pals, Deaver and Meese.
Vice-President Bush, too, was slated by some for an early confrontation with Reagan. But the fact of the matter is that, basically, Baker gets along amazingly well with Meese and Deaver. Yes, they have had differences - but nothing approaching the struggle and eventual break that was foreseen by some who feed Washington speculation.
And Reagan and Bush? They have become buddies. They found they really liked each other. They ride together, laugh together. Their wives like each other, too.
This is not to say there are not differences among personalities on the President's first team. Such conflicts are inevitable. And some clashes, like those involving Haig, have necessitated the intervention of the President himself.
But the remarkable thing about the people in the Reagan administration is how well they have worked together and how few personality conflicts there have been. Isn't that a dull thing to report? In Washington ''talk'' circles such an observation isn't likely to hold anyone's attention for very long.