Over lunch this week with the wine nearly gone and coffee on the way, Patrick Brogan of The London Times offered this observation:
"The problem we haven't faced up to is that these clowns may end up running the United States government."
Brogan, Washington Correspondent for his paper, was talking about the Republicans who dominated this GOP convention -- talking with a candor that most American reporters would not permit themselves, even if they shared the emotion.
Hundreds of foreign journalists have covered the convention here, and, judging by an unscientific random sample's a great many share Brogan's low regard of Ronald Reagan. Europeans, of course, have always been skilled at examining America from a perch atop their noses, but the distain they express for Reagan and his Republican colleagues exceeds the standard quota.
"Mr. Reagan and the Republicans in general are viewed as really very, very conservative -- just like people who are coming from another planet," offered Regis Faucon, a correspondent for French television.
Like most of the European journalists questioned, Faucon was particularly bemused by the Reagan camp's approach to foreign-policy issues. "They don't know much about foreign policy, of course, the Republicans, but much more important, they don't care about it. . . . Most Republicans I have met here care very much about their position in the world, but they don't know this world. . . . There's only one place they want to be, and that's first place."
The Reagan organization is sensitive its candidate's reputation in Europe and elsewhere.
"There's an image problem," said William Van Cleave, a senior Reagan adviser on defense policy. "No question about it." In part to deal with that problem, Reagan's principal foreign policy aide, Richard V. Allen, held a news conference Tuesday attended by many foreign journalists.
But the session apparently failed to achieve the desired result. "He was hopeless," said Anthony Howard, editor of the Listener in London, in Detroit for BBC radio, "Very long-winded, very prolix, and I learned absolutely nothing."
Others said the Republicans' foreign-policy statements were attracting a lot of attention in Europe. Rolf Svenson, American correspondent of Stockholm's Aftonbladet, said the lead paragraph on his dispatch about the foreign policy sentiments expressed here was, "It's back to the Cold War."
"Even Kissinger shows a very tough line to fit into the Reagan forces," Svenson said, referring to Henry A. Kissinger's toughly worded speech to the convention Tuesday night. "Maybe he wanted a job."
"He wants a job," said Brian Toohey of The Financial Review of Australia. "That's what I told my readers."
"It was one of the greasiest performances I've ever seen," added Jurek Martin of The Financial Times of London.
Critical sentiments prevailed in this random survey, but they were not universal.
Robin Day, one of the best known commentators on BBC television, took a detached view, comparing the Reagan phenomenon here with Margaret Thatcher's triumphs in Britain, first in capturing control of the Conservative Party, then in leading it to electoral victory last year.
"It's pure Thatcherism, I would have said," Day observed.
The Reagan camp, too, has compared its candidate with the conservative prime minister, but others here said the comparison would not with-stand careful scrutiny.
Toohey of Australia's Financial Review said Thatcher's economic policies amounted to "handing out the hard medicine," enforcing a deep economic recession by government action, whereas the Republicans have promised to stimulate economic growth by cutting taxes, allegedly to achieve the same goals of stabilizing prices and increasing initiative that Thather says she is pursuing.
"The Republican platform denounces the policies that Thatcher is following," Brogan said, referring to the GOP's criticism of the Carter administration for fighting inflation by increasing unemployment.
William Deedes, a former Tory cabinet minister in Britain who is editor of the conservative Daily Telegraph, also perceived some "American Thatcherism" in the Republican platform. "Reagan's exciting for the Telegraph," he said. "We tend to herald the arrival of a Republican more than the arrival of a Democrat, for natural reasons."
Many of the foreigners here have been struck by the hoopla of an American convention. All week, French television has boradcast pictures of delegates in funny hats, delegates with chests burdened with campaign buttons, delegated carrying on on the convention floor. The French love it, according to Dominque Bromberger of French television.
"I'm not sure this is a good thing," he added. "It is going to reinforce the cliches in France about Americans."