Ronald Reagan for VP?

MORE than two months have passed since Newsday's Mike Waldman suggested over breakfast that reporters were overlooking one possibility for the vice-president's running mate: the President. ``Could a two-term president do this?'' a fellow newsman asked. ``The constitutional restriction on serving only two terms doesn't apply in this case,'' Mr. Waldman said.

The idea seemed preposterous, even though Ronald Reagan almost chose President Ford as his running mate in 1980. But now, with the polls showing Michael Dukakis with a decisive lead - perhaps the combining of George Bush with Mr. Reagan is worth considering.

What does the United States Constitution say on the subject? The 22nd Amendment, Section 1, states: ``No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice....'' The important word here is ``elected.'' A twice-elected president might, as vice-president, have to take over the presidency. But the Constitution would not prevent him from such a succession.

In Washington's media and political circles the possibility of a Bush-Reagan ticket was recently lifted to the level of serious discussion. Indeed, a recent column in the Washington Post's Outlook Section was headlined: ``The GOP's Hottest Ticket,'' and subheadlined ``Who can deliver Texas, California, and a Compliant Congress?'' The writer, William Purvis, teases the readers a bit in his beginning paragraphs:

``While commentators have generally praised the bold vision of Michael Dukakis in choosing Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate, their speculation has universally overlooked the one eligible politician who could put George Bush in the White House. This Republican would: Guarantee California. Deliver Texas, Bentsen notwithstanding. Tie Mr. Bush to his conservatives firmer than Jack Kemp. Have more appeal to the ethnic/blue-collar/Southern bloc of Reagan Democrats than any other two choices combined. And reduce all wings of the Democratic Party to sputtering incoherence, thus gaining the objective of all good politics: confusion of the opposition.''

Here, Mr. Purvis discloses the name of the person who could do all this. Clearly, an idea that once seemed out of the question now has become at least a remote possibility. So let's examine it:

1.Would the President be willing to serve in this capacity? Both he and Nancy have said more than once that they are eager to get back to the ranch to a leisurely, retired life. That should - and, perhaps does - put an end to this whole discussion.

But some of these same questions came up before the President made his decision to run for a second term. In an interview with the Monitor, Mr. Reagan indicated that he might well be a one-time President. I then talked with one of his top aides who was consulting with him on this decision. The aide said Mrs. Reagan had expressed some desire to pull down the curtain and Mr. Reagan had been slow on making up his mind.

``But,'' this aide added, in words similar to these, ``once the President was persuaded that his staying on was needed for him to carry forward and complete some of the programs he was interested in - and that therefore his remaining in office was in the interests of serving his country - he quickly decided to run again.''

A president who puts duty and country first might be persuaded that GOP continuity in the presidency is needed to carry through his foreign policy initiatives.

2.Then there's Reagan's age. Yet, despite his physical adversities over the last eight years, the President still looks strong - and he still has a spring in his step. He somehow keeps that ``youngish look.''

3.Would the vice-president seek to tap his old boss for No. 2? The two have a friendly, informal relationship. But this would be a most difficult question to pop.

4.Under what circumstances would Bush be most likely to seek Reagan's services? If his pollsters were telling him he needed a ``very bold'' choice in his running mate, then and then only would he likely consider a Bush-Reagan ticket.

Is this the advice Bush is getting? It is known that some of his so-called GOP pollsters (who might be expected to put the best GOP interpretation on findings) are alarmed at what they are discovering in their studies of voter sentiment. They think the Dukakis lead in national polls of 18 or so percentage points is a ``soft'' finding. But their examinations of voter attitudes on a state-by-state basis - the way the electoral vote comes in - discloses that Mr. Dukakis may have built up a decided lead.

One bold move would be to choose a woman. Bush has been told such a choice could give him at least three percentage points among the electorate. That selection could well be Sen. Nancy Kassebaum - even though she has denied she's interested. Or Elizabeth Dole. Or Sandra O'Connor.

Or if it's a choice made out of desperation, Bush might quietly turn to his old friend Ron for some badly needed help on the ticket.

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

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