RONALD Reagan is not yet a full year beyond his second election, but that means nothing to politicians with an eye on ``what comes after Reagan.'' Let us therefore take note of the present lineup of runners, if only to be able to look back someday in 1988 and find out who was disappointed and for what reasons.
The obvious front-runner on the Republican side is Vice-President George Bush. But other Republicans assume that the vice-presidency is a poor launching pad for a presidential nomination in changing times. And the others also assume, perhaps correctly, that by midsummer of 1988 the country may be more interested in change than in a man who has earned high marks as Mr. Reagan's most loyal errand boy.
Who among Republicans could best provide a change from Reagan policies in 1988? The obvious answer is Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, who has made a broad track for himself in Washington by opposing many of Mr. Reagan's policies, in particular Reagan's relaxed attitude toward the doubling of the national debt. Senator Dole has crusaded splendidly for budget balancing. Republicans looking for a conservative in the traditional Republican sense of sound dollars and balanced budgets have their man in Bob Dole.
Of course, we cannot foresee what the economic situation will be in 1988. Rep. Jack Kemp of New York is both father and guardian angel of the concept of ``supply-side economics.'' Ronald Reagan has been his disciple in that department. But how well will ``supply side'' ideas be viewed if by 1988 even a few of the current dire predictions about the American economy turn out to be justified?
Jack Kemp's ideas were tops in 1980, but will they play in Peoria, or New York, in 1988? If those ideas won't play and if Bob Dole seems out of date for reverse reasons -- there is Howard Baker, who is plugging quietly away on the sidelines being himself and out from under Mr. Reagan's shadow. He has made no niche for himself either by supporting Mr. Reagan, like George Bush, or opposing him, like Bob Dole.
Which leaves little room for the Democrats; but then, do they need much? Their obvious front-runner is Sen. Edward Kennedy, who is running as hard as any official ``noncandidate'' ever did in living memory. His great asset is marvelous oratorical power. But he has two liabilities -- Chappaquiddick and New Deal policies. Other Democrats doubt that a Kennedy campaign can get off the ground.
But what other Democrats enjoy real national standing? John Glenn is a memory. We still hear occasionally of Sen. Ernest Hollings. Gary Hart appears occasionally on television. Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York is fading. Can you identify among Democrats someone who looks and sounds like a real contender for the presidency?
Democrats now need someone like a Franklin Delano Roosevelt who seems to have caught a sense of future national needs, who can articulate such needs, and who can make as good a speech as a Kennedy. Will anyone knowing of such a person please let me know.