Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Dwight Eisenhower's famous smile was three feet wide, spread toothily across a giant screen at one end of the Grand Ballroom in the Mayflower Hotel.
He beamed out across a 12-piece orchestra that was playing "Hello Dolly" for a dance floor full of Republicans and 40 packed tables behind them. Nearly 400 of the faithful had gathered to dine at $500-per-plate on mushroom soup, filet mignon and chocolate mousse and to mark the silver jubilee of the Eisenhower presidency.
Like the man whose memory they honored, Thursday night's crowd tended to overlook the man who had served as his vice president. The name of Jimmy Carter was mentioned a lot more often Thursday than that of Richard Nixon.
Not favorably, to be sure - John Eisenhower, the former president's son, decribed the Carter administration as "lethal."
"It's the most hopeless administration in history," he said. "He has proved so well his campaign statement that he doesn't know anything about Washington ."
No admirer of Washington himself, Eisenhower added, "I don't normally come here for a dinner unless it's a family affair."
Kingdon Gould Jr., chairman of the event, also invoked the name of Carter, praising him and Bert Lance, the former budget director, as "two people who have worked for the revitalization of the Republican Party."
"Lance deserves a lot of credit," said Gould. After the laughs subsided, he added: "And he gets it."
The Washington dinner was one of 14 being held simultaneously across the country, from the Harvard Club in Boston to the Century Plaza in Los Angeles, where former president Gerald Ford and former Texas Gov. John Connally were the hosts. A 15th dinner was scheduled for Friday in Denable to get a suitable room for Thursday night.
Closed-circuit television linked the 14 dinners after the local speakers had ended, with the camera cutting back and forth between Los Angeles and Chicago, where the hosts were Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Besides the political rhetoric, entertainment was provided by Pearl Bailey singing in Chicago and Glenn Campbell in Los Angeles.
A documentary film on the Eisenhower years concluded with a close-up of his grinning face, painted in a Norman-Rockwell style, and then the screen cut to the scene in Los Angeles. For a surrealistic mement, the rows of tables in Washington found themselves applauding the similar rows of tables broadcast from Los Angeles - which also were applauding.
A minute later, the figure of John Connally stood tall - even for a Texan - on the screen, his head and shoulders looming 12 feet from top to bottom as he tore into the party to which he had once belonged.
Connally told the television audience that he had heard Tongsun Park was holding a reception for Democrats at the Korean embassy with "an express line for anyone taking $10,000 or less."
Ronald Reagan, projected giant-sized seemed to be in his natural habitat and was in top form as he called the party to a "rendezous with destiny," urged them to recruit new Republicans among blue-collar workers and joked in two languages: "Status quo: That's Latin for the mess we're in.'"
All the speakers seemed terribly worried about the current status of the dollar, of which the Republican National Committee expected to gross approximately 3 million from the event.In New York and Detroit, the meals cost $1,000 per plate. Couples in Detroit were offered a special deal: two tickets for $1,500. The Washington party had a cash bar in one corner (cocktails, $2; beer and wine, $1.50). It did not seem to get much patronage.
Maverick Republican Paul ("Pete") McCloskey (R-Calif.) said this was the first such dinner he had attended since urging the impeachment of Nixon in 1971. Asked about his choice for the next Republican presidential nomination, he said: "George Bush. I like Howard Baker, but I think Bush can do the job the Republican Party needs, which is to attract young people into the party. This party represents 18 percent of the American people and no one under 40 is in it.
"If you're young and look at a party that is against women and against the Panama Canal Treaties, would you join it?"
Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) shared McCloskey's table and reminisced a bit about Eisenhower, for whom he had campaigned in 1952. "We disagreed on civil rights and other subjects, but he was fine, authoritative, amiable human being, and he gave the country what it needed at the time," Javits said.
Bryce Harlow, former aide for Nixon and Ford, was kinder to Jimmy Carter than might have been expected. Carter "is still trying to get established," he said. "He'll have to take as long as it takes to do that. I've been in the White House for 11 years, and I know it's not easy.
Seated at the table next to that of her hasband John was Elizabeth Taylor Warner, who has added a touch of badly needed glamor to many Republican festivities in the past year. Thursday as usual, despite signs of physical discomfort (she left early), Taylor was there and held her own. She agreed that the Eisenhower years were good ones, but added, "I've liked every decade of my life." Her husband, escorting her out, added simply, "This is lke's night."