Private citizen Gerald R. Ford left Washington yesterday for his second vacation home in Vail, Colo., having touched more political bases in four days than most former Presidents - or Presidents - do in four weeks.
In his whirl through town, Ford propped up President Carter's embattled Panama Canal treaties, peppered his successor's economic and energy policies, and served warning that he may callenge him on a new strategic arms limitiation talks (SALT) treaty with the Soviet Union.
He talked food exports with ambassadors, tax problems with businessmen and politics with his former Cabinet and White House staff.
When he told reporters at breakfast yesterday that he intended to be "continously active" inpolitical and policy matters from now through 1980, there was not a skeptic in the room.
But the possibility of a rerun in 1980 against the man who evicted him from the White House is another question. Ford said he would make his decision in 1979 - after he publishes a memoir of his 29-month presidency which he promised will not be "600 pages of self-justification."
In the possibily purposeful style of clocutionary confusion which was a hallmark of his public utterances as President, Ford left the reporters with this helpful hint about his future plans:
Ford: "I'd rather be skiing in Vail this Christmas than going where Carter is going - to Tehran and New Delhi."
Reporter: "That why you're not going to run again?"
Ford: "No. By 1980, I'll be too old to ski. (Pause). But not to be President."
Actually, in 1980, Ford will be 67. Today, relaxed after hours of golf at his palm springs, Calif., home between work on his book, Republican fund-raising speeches and visits to college campuses, he looks about 10 years younger than he is.
The schedule he maintained during his four days in Washington included three public speeches and a dozen meetings on almost that many topics.
From a conference at former Gov. Averell Harriman's home on Sunday with other supporters of the Panama Canal treaties to a pair of briefings - one by the administration and one by its critics - Wednesday on SALT negotiations with the Russians, Ford used his time to update the information that once flowed naturally to him in the Oval Office.
At yesterday's press breakfast, he unburdened himself on a wide variety to topics that will provide the grist for future campaign speeches.
The session was held in the formal conference room of the American Enterprise Institute the policy-research organization which made the former President a "distinguished fellow."
But the cerebral surroundings did nothing to fuzz Ford's directness on those topics on which he chose to be specific. The first question was on Carter's forthcoming trip to India the Middle East and Europe.
The first answer was: "I don't see much point in it."
There was more such politically tinged criticism an only slightly sanitized version of the caustic analysis of his successor's performance he reportedly has been offering in private.
According to Ford:
Carter's relationship with Congress "is not good . . . His legislative liaison office is in shambles; it's not effective, not responsive."
Carter's energy program is "insufficient" and is emerging from Congress "in a half-baked way."
Carter's proposed tax cuts are "inadequate,' particularly for middle-income families who "damn, well need" substantial relief if the country is not going to face "a tax revolt."
On the other hand, Ford said, he was glad Carter had largely abandoned his plans for "so-called tax reform," which, he said, would have been so controversial in the Congress that they would have delayed the needed tax cuts until late next year.
And he said he thought the Carter administration's decision to accept former Central Intelligence Agency Director Richard Helms' plea of no contest to a lesser charge than perjury was "probably the best solution to a bad situation."
On the issue of the Panama Canal treaties, which has sharply split his own party, Ford reaffirmed his alliance with the Democratic President.
He said he thought prospects for senate approval were "improving" but added that he had told Carter at their meeting Tuesday that "the administration has to do more' to influence public opinion, including more speeches by Carter and Secretary of State Cyprus R. Vance. "I've been assured they will," he said.
Ford said that he regretted that the Republican National Committee had exploited the sentiment against The Treaties in a fund-raising letter sent out over the signature of Ronald Reagan, his 1976 challenger for the nomination and a strong critic of the treaties.
"I think it was ill-advised to try to raise money on a single issue for a broad-based party," he said. He added that he supported Republican National Chairman Bill Brock's refusal to give Reagan allies $50,000 of the $700,000 the Reagan letter raised to help finance a series of anti-treaty rallies around the country.
While backing Carter on Panama, Ford strongly hinted that he may oppose his successor on the new SALT agreement now being negotiated with the Soviet's - an issued he said was "far more important than Panama."
"I've not made a decision," Ford said, "but I'm going to take a long, hard look' at the treaty.
He said he was not sure the United States could "break out of" the three-year restrictions on cruise missile development proposed in the treaty, if conditions warranted and said the restrictions proposed on the Soviet Backfire bomber seemed "insufficient."
He also criticized Carter's "unilateral" decisions to scrap the B-1 bomber and to slow development of other weapons systems, calling the B-1 action "one of the worst decisions of the administration."