To get elected to the high office of the presidency of the United States, a man must have the support of an enthusiastic constituency without arousing the anxieties and the hostility of an equal other constituency.
To be reelected for a second term in that same high office, a man (or woman) must retain the loyalty of the original constituency and at the same time gain the posture of a ''president of all the people.'' He must so conduct himself that he does not come to seem in office to be the champion of a single segment of the American community.
Ronald Reagan performed brilliantly in his original campaign, both for the Republican nomination and for the office of president. He won the enthusiastic support of a large and wealthy constituency, but without arousing the anxieties and hostility of other communities.
The rich individuals, the big corporations, and many small businesses provided the necessary campaign funds which supported the advertising, the television time, and the campaign workers.
The work of the enthusiastic conservative community produced probably a maximum turnout of voters who traditionally and institutionally are on the right side of the American political spectrum.
At the same time this was done without committing the mistake made by the right wing of the Republican Party during the Barry Goldwater campaign. That mistake was to be so openly right-wing in posture and attitude as to frighten the blacks, the poor, organized labor, the pensioners, and those who worried about too forward and militaristic a national posture.
With deft assistance from Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats, Senator Goldwater was made to look like a warmonger and an ultra--reactionary. A large constituency went to work enthusiastically to see to his defeat.
In the 1980 campaign Ronald Reagan soothed blue collar workers, appealed to Roman Catholics on both parochial school and morality issues, cultivated Jews by praising Israel, promised to respect social security payments, and managed to avoid worrying blacks. Thus he avoided appearing to threaten the welfare of any segment of that large constituency which has been voting for Democrats since the days of the New Deal.
During that 1980 campaign those communities that normally regard Republicans as their enemies saw in Ronald Reagan a friendly man who promised to cut their taxes and rid the country of ''chiselers'' and ''cheats.'' The great politicians of America's past, Mark Hanna and Jim Farley, would have watched the operation with respect tinged both by admiration and jealousy. It was done brilliantly.
But that is not an act which can be repeated for the same man twice. Things are different now. Mr. Reagan is well into his second year in the presidency. He is building a record. He is taking up positions which please some segments of the American political community and cause anxiety, distrust, and even outright hostility in other communities.
The plain fact is that in this second year Mr. Reagan looks like the champion of the right-wing communities, not as a president of all the people.
The budget cuts have fallen heavily on the blacks and other inner-city dwellers. There has been talk of cutting back on social security computations. Interior Secretary James G. Watt has infuriated the environmentalists and frightened those who care about clean air and clean water. That includes a lot of mothers.
Organized labor has been disenchanted by the rise in unemployment statistics. People in all segments of the economic spectrum have become anxious over the size of the present and prospective federal deficits. The level of interest rates has eaten into the ranks of business men and bankers who would otherwise continue to be loyal supporters for Reaganomics. Farmers are unhappy over falling grain and dairy prices. The younger generation has been alarmed by talk of nuclear war.
Who is still enthusiastic about Mr. Reagan?
Answer. Most people whose spendable income lies above the $40,000 level. They are net beneficiaries, unless they happen to have their capital in some company which has been pushed into bankruptcy by high interest rates. Also, investors in defense industries.
Mr. Reagan has proved to be marvelously loyal to his original constituency. His dogged support for tax cuts and high defense spending regardless of the pressures on him are testimony to that loyalty and justification for the funds which the right and the defense contractors contributed to the Reagan campaign. But that very loyalty explains his failure so far to become perceived as a president of all the people. It also explains why the polls show his rating in public opinion to be declining below the level of comparable ratings at this stage of the Carter presidency.
It seems a reasonable proposition that unless Mr. Reagan can change public perceptions promptly his party will suffer a severe setback at the polls this November and he himself will be another one-term president.