The troika plus one
Washington — Veteran observers of the Reagan political saga say that in the long run William P. Clark will inevitably emerge as the President's strong right arm -- and that he is moving in that direction already.
Actually Clark is only now getting settled in as successor to Richard Allen as national security adviser. Thus, to all appearances, he seems to be little more than the new man at the top level of the White House -- already respected but with just a little less clout than the troika of Messrs. Edwin Meese, James Baker, and Michael Deaver.
Clark, like Meese and Deaver, was a trusted aide of Reagan before reaching Washington. But Clark, according to those who know Reagan and his ways very well , has the edge over the other two: he and his family are close friends of Reagan and his family. For years the two families have often socialized.
Meese and Deaver have a friendly relationship with the Reagans, to be sure -- but there has never been that much of a personal, social tie.
Perhaps all that will happen is that the power trio sitting at the President's side will become a quartet. That seems to be occurring already. But long-time Reagan watchers say that in time, perhaps not before a second term if that comes about, something like this will take place: Meese will be given a choice appointment, perhaps on the Supreme Court. Baker, too, will be elevated, perhaps to some Cabinet post. This will leave Clark as both the President's top White House adviser and chief of staff.
All this does not mean that some highly political power grab is being engineered by Clark, or by Reagan in behalf of Clark. The upward road scenario for Clark is being predicted simply on the grounds of what observers believe to be the political realities.
Meanwhile, Messrs. Meese, Baker, Deaver, and Clark are getting along quite well together, despite rumors to the contrary. They don't always agree. The President doesn't expect -- or want -- them always to agree. Personally, they like each other.
By the time any president is in office a year there are always reports about friction, backbiting, and political maneuvering among those close to him. They have started now with Reagan. But they are not true to any significant extent.
There is talk, too, of Meese having incurred Reagan's displeasure for having made some errors in judgment (refusing to dismiss National Security Adviser Richard Allen and failing to wake up the President after the Mediterranean incident in which two Libyan planes were downed) and for having failed to measure up sufficiently as an administrator.
There is indeed a little bad-mouthing of Meese for alleged administrative weakness in the White House. I have heard it with my own ears. But I have also been assured by those close to Reagan that the President remains supportive of Meese. ''That's the bottom line,'' one observer said. ''Reagan has a deep sense of loyalty toward Meese. And that means that Meese is still riding high.''
After Reagan had been in office for just a few months, he earned some high praise for his White House staff selections from a very unlikely source. Robert Strauss, who seems to enjoy deriding Republicans as a rule, went out of his way to say that Reagan had the best presidential staff he had seen in years.
There have been problems, of course. Budget director David Stockman dropped out of presidential favor with his less-than-supportive comments in the Atlantic. There is still intense pressure on Reagan from influential officials within the administration to move Stockman into some less visible role after he finishes testifying on the Reagan budget. So Stockman may well be destined to slip out of sight -- just as Allen did after he became involved in conduct which the President finally decided made him no longer useful.
But major staff difficulties have not occurred. People from the Cabinet, Capitol Hill, and elsewhere who need to see Reagan are quickly granted access. The President and Vice-President Bush get along well -- and so do their staffs. Basically, this President is being given unified staff support.