Victory! Years of planning, disappointment, hotel rooms, bad food, worry, tension. In Ronald Reagan's case, six years of almost non-stop travel, always having to be up for the crowds, on guard with the press, wondering whether it's all a waste of time.
Candidates and their staffs often behave strangely on Election Day. Walking up on the day of decision, you realize that for the first time in at least a year you don't have anything to do. This is an awful feeling when your mind and body have been geared for so long to accomplishing more than was humanly possible each day, still realizing how much you didn't get done. All of a sudden you feel useless, the thing is out of your hands; whether the result, tomorrow will be different. While the burden of trying to reach this decisive day has been lifted, what has been the discipline of your life has vanished.
Richard Nixon used to take long drives on Election Day just to be doing something. Other men I have known played cards; some have tried to spend the day with their families but found they couldn't be natural, couldn't let down, couldn't relieve the tension. Ronald Reagan has a ritual that involves being with his close friends until it is time to go to the hotel and get the news.
One man I knew would station himself in the bathtub as the results began to come in and wouldn't come out until the decision was final. Once he had a close race that went on all night; he looked like a prune by the time he came downstaires to give his victory speech. His supporters thought he was ill, worried about the toll the campaign had taken on him, wondered if he would be able to serve out his term.
Tuesday was an easy night for Reagan the campaigner. It was a more difficult evening for Reagan the president-elect. You see, you don't really win anything in politics; all you get is a chance to perform at a higher level.
It is certainly no fun to lose a race; you feel terrible. But at least you get a chance to crawl off somewhere, and little by little you get your life back in order. When you win, getting your life back in order doesn't have a chance. The day after the election, a new pressure immediately sets in as decisions have to be made, appointments considered and the relentless eye of the press descends, hungry for even a rumor of what shape the new adminstration will take.
The campaign, which in the end acquired a working comity among the staff, is now gone. The beast has departed; a new one is taking shape. Men and women mill around wondering what will happen to them, suddenly unemployed for the moment, unsure they can live on a government salary but hoping against hope they will be asked. People who have the time to think through which job they want (because they don't have to be working their guts out in the campaign every day) are all around, both in person and on the telephone, setting in motion their elaborate schemes, moving while the newly elected president is somewhat defenseless, hoping to complete his work before those who would oppose him discover the effort.
The shoguns of Japan lived remote from their vassals in a palace in Kyoto where only a trusted few knew the true route through the maze of corridors that led to the inner sanctum. Floorboards creaked as visitors drew near so the shogun could have a few moments to raise his guard before visitors approached. A special guard of samurai were always on hand lest security be violated or would-be friends come too near. The Japanese at least recognized that where there is power, even one's friends can't fully be trusted.
The next two months are going to be the most crucial for Reagan's presidency. The decisions made on who will get the top jobs, which policies will be pursued first with Congress and how well the new administration will slip into the shoes of the old administration so continuity can be maintained will quickly give this presidency a character that will mark it throughout.
Jimmy Carter lost his chance to grab hold of the office in 1976 and paid dearly for this failure throughout his term. He didn't lose his chance for reelection Tuesday night, or a week ago, or when the hostages were taken. He lost it when, in November 1976, he failed to gather experience around him, offended Congress by tampering with a carefully crafted water projects bill and felt he could relax until he was inaugurated.
It's too bad there is no time to reflect, no time to breathe, no way to relax. Ronald Reagan will handle this pressure to go on better than most men have. His instincts are good, he doesn't agonize over decisions and he desperately wants to prove he can be a good president. His role model for the presidency is Franklin Roosevelt, so there will be action; he is a less prideful man than most, so he will take advice. But he, like all presidents, would better survive these upcoming two months if he could spend them in that palace in Kyoto, away from those who have designs on the power he now holds.