Microcosm of trust
President Reagan himself takes the platform tonight, to likely tumultuous applause from his own party faithful. The Dallas convention has been likened to a coronation - with Mr. Reagan the crowning eminence in today's GOP presidential range.
Conventions are like that. They become microcosms of conviction. They represent the start of the presidential campaign. The candidate's acceptance speech sets the tone. He must establish himself as believable, credible.
For Mr. Reagan, the point of confidence in his judgment plays a significant role, particularly when considering the realm of foreign affairs. Earlier speeches this week alluded to this. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick attempted in her address to describe a purpose behind the President's policies, as well as to warn about the Democratic alternative to Mr. Reagan.
Politically speaking, Walter Mondale does not enjoy anywhere near the level of personal enthusiasm among Democrats that Mr. Reagan inspires among Republicans.
Confidence in Mr. Reagan as a known quantity underlies the Reagan-Bush political strategy this fall. Ronald Reagan has been campaigning publicly on the same themes for 20 years: peace through strength, prosperity through less government, and domestic tranquillity found in traditional values.
It is this Reagan consistency that inspires public trust, even among those that do not agree with him, his strategists contend. His ''dependability'' leads many to excuse his occasional miscues, they say. As one longtime Reaganite puts it: ''People think he's believable because they know that what they see is the core of him.''
Expect no new Reagan this fall. It would undercut his greatest asset, his consistency, for the candidate to depart from the familiar Reagan style and themes.
Trust in Reagan - his record over 20 years, not just the past four years - is offered as a reason not to get alarmed by the current chilled relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Reagan supporters even argued this week that the volatile rhetoric on both sides does not matter. The prospects of arms talks are not affected, they assert; tough rhetoric helps describe what America is up against and can be a good thing.
This is not only an arguable point to others, it is deeply troubling to those not tuned into the microcosm of confidence in Reagan shared by his close followers.
We have heard the refrain continually in Dallas: ''The world is safer than it was four years ago.'' The partisans do not mention that Mr. Reagan has been the first President in years not to have a direct meeting with his Soviet counterparts. Neither the absence of face-to-face dialogue nor the presence of superpower name calling seems to trouble them overmuch.
One party strategist claims that in the final analysis it's not the rhetoric that matters, it's what actually happens.
Is progress undermined by Reagan inner-circle maneuvering, between those who want to repair relations with the Soviets and those who prefer confrontation? ''Reagan makes the decisions'' is the rejoinder. ''Reagan has such secure views, such good basic instincts. Something in his makeup and character directs him to make the right decisions. It's been that way with him since he was governor of California.''
This is asking the public to set great store for the world's security in the Reagan record and style.
One of the attractions of a possible Gerald Ford-Ronald Reagan reconciliation ticket four years ago was the prospect of ending the rivalry within the GOP over the conduct and goals of US foreign policy. One can only speculate about what the outcome of such an experiment would have been, since history took a different course.
Evidently Mr. Ford, too, has entered the microclimate of Reagan trust. When he addressed the convention the former President spoke approvingly of his one-time rival's leadership, including in foreign affairs.
Yet foreign affairs is the Reagan administration's most vulnerable political front, rivaled only by the deficit.
That partly explains this week's offensive in Dallas, attacking the Democrats as ''blame America firsters'' who failed to see the Soviets as culpable for US foreign policy reverses.
The issue of trust and judgment has been forthrightly put here in Dallas. Its test will come outside the Dallas microclimate in November.