Reagan and '84
Washington — One of the prime topics of conversation among politicians and the press these days is whether or not Ronald Reagan will run again.
In many ways, Reagan is just getting started. Yet the speculation is widespread both here and around the country.
Two reporters who have tracked Reagan since the beginning of his 1980 campaign say they are convinced he will not try again. Says one: ''From what he has said I get the clear feeling he will not run in 1984.''
Says the other: ''He's not a person who is absorbed in glory. So I think he will look at the realities -- his age and the opportunity to step down and spend his time with Nancy and doing what he wants to do in his later years.''
Assistant Press Secretary Peter Roussel says of Reagan's plans for 1984: ''Who knows? I don't know if Reagan himself knows what he is going to do.''
The President himself says, when pressed on the question, that the people will determine whether he runs again. This sounds as though he would regard a high standing in the polls as a signal for seeking eight years in the White House. In other words, if his economic and global initiatives are playing well in 1984, he will again be a candidate.
But why all this speculation on a subject that probably won't be resolved before many months from now?
One reason is obvious: Reagan's age. He would be in his late 70s by the end of a second term.
Yet the President, now fully recovered from the assassination attempt, both looks and acts like a man years younger. Theodore H. White, in the latest of his ''Making of the President'' books: ''America in Search of Itself,'' writes of the surprising vigor he found in candidate Reagan: ''Reagan works and works and works. He can go up the steep steps of a construction site faster than me; without gripping the rail.'' This is pretty much the Reagan that reporters see today.
The key to Reagan's plans for the future might lie in White's assessment of the President as ''the most resolute ideologue in the modern presidency.'' The political historian raises the question as to whether Reagan's election in 1980 would, as time goes on, be perceived as a counterrevolution or a restoration.
Reagan himself sees his goals in both ways: as a restoration of individual freedoms that reflect what the founding fathers had in mind for America, and as a counterrevolution against the advent of big Washington government and massive social programs brought on by Franklin Roosevelt.
Right now the President believes his goals are threatened by a less than cooperative Congress. But those close to him say that he will never make concessions to Congress that would prevent him from moving toward these objectives.
Reagan has already seen a slowdown in the growth of big government as a result of the programs he was able to put into place last year. And he will fight to the bitter end, his cohorts say, before he will allow this trend to be reversed or slowed down too much.
The President in his TV speech on the budget said that his main difference with Speaker Tip O'Neill and company was ''philosophical.'' What this means in practical terms, say his aides, is that, while the President may now accept a program that includes billions of dollars of additional revenue to help relieve the massive deficit, he will not do so if he feels that this money will be used to maintain the growth of social programs, particularly in the entitlement field.
Also, Reagan also insists that any tax increases be used principally for maintaining his defense buildup and, at the same time, reducing the budget.
The Reagan people insist that while the President will compromise, he simply isn't going to accept any budget that contains within it the ''beginning of a drift back'' against the Reagan counterrevolution. And they say he will use his veto, if he needs to, to keep this from happening.
This ''resolute ideologue'' that Mr. White writes about is indeed a fighter for what he wants done in this country. He wants to turn things around, and he is pictured by those around him as never, even in private discussions, deviating an iota from seeking to accomplish this long-held goal. Thus, one could conclude that Mr. Reagan may well decide that he must try to take his philosophical battle into a second term.