Jacksonville, Fla. — With the President retaining his credibility among hard-core supporters, it is clear that opportunity beckons: He is free to do what he feels he must do to make progress toward lowering global tensions and to shore up the economy.
Thus, as Richard Nixon was able to open the door to Peking - because his supporters were convinced a tried and true anti-communist would not betray them - so Mr. Reagan will be able, should he choose, to make some bold move toward reducing Soviet-US nuclear arsenals.
One gets the feeling among people here in the Southeast that their trust in Mr. Reagan is undiminished. And Mr. Reagan, it should be remembered, did extremely well throughout the South in the 1980 election, almost as well as he did in the West.
When, under prodding from Mr. Reagan, Secretary Weinberger recommended an $11 .3 billion cut in proposed military budget authority for next year, the response among Reagan supporters in these parts was not one of alarm. Instead they seemed quite willing to believe Mr. Reagan: that these cuts can be made without impairing the military buildup.
Mr. Reagan hints that a major nuclear arms pact is a strong possibility, probably by the end of 1983. Does he have a new offer, or concession, up his sleeve? In any case, it seems his loyal supporters would stick by him if he decided to make a more vigorous effort to end the arms race. They believe that, as a long-time, proven anticommunist, he would never do anything that would endanger the United States. And from this Mr. Reagan draws his political strength - and opportunity. If his backers permit him to work out a nuclear arms pact - who will be against him? Obviously Mr. Reagan is positioned politically to deal imaginatively with the Soviets.
On the domestic front, too, Mr. Reagan's supporters are standing firm behind him. They have taken his gas-tax increase without a whimper. Like most Americans , they dislike gas taxes. But if Mr. Reagan says they are needed for highways and bridges and to give a little help to the unemployed, they will go along with them.
Or take the President's program to give farmers surplus grain for idling up to half their fields. This initiative echoes the great depression and FDR - and government tinkering. But the Republicans and conservative Democrats in this area aren't protesting the move. They seem ready to give the President running room in the economic arena. Because they trust him. They feel he is a genuine philosophical conservative who only in an emergency would depart from relying completely on the marketplace for economic solutions.
What Reagan supporters want above all else is for the President to take steps to lift the economy. Some feel that through his supply-side economic initiatives he has put a recovery into place. But the feeling grows among Reaganites, polls show, that they would like the President to stimulate recovery a bit.
Reagan supporters generaly like the President's success in cutting back on welfare programs. They want less government. And they would especially like to see that massive budget deficit cut back. And so they welcome the defense spending reductions as a move that will help lower that deficit.
A New York Times columnist recently wrote: ''Two years into the Reagan presidency Americans are beginning to suspect the awful truth: they have a government incompetent to govern, a President frozen in an ideological fantasy-land, an administration spotted with rogues and fools.''
This analysis sounds as if it comes from those who never thought much of Mr. Reagan in the first place and were certain he was destined to failure. It has a New York and a Washington flavor.
The Americans whom the pollsters - and this reporter - are talking to are generally still behind the President, enough so to provide him considerable opportunity in the final years of his term.