President-elect Ronald Reagan has become a rarely seen, rarely heard figure at the center of the planning for his presidency.
He has not met with his top aides for 10 days and no meetings are scheduled, although he is reported to be in constant touch by telephone. His aides are scattered around the country while he remains isolated at his home here except for social events.
Edwin Meese III, his top assistant, told reporters during Reagan's triumphal visit to Washington two weeks ago that he likes to have his advisers debate issues in his presence.
As president-elect, however, Reagan has decided to have few business meeting and a generally open schedule while he waits to take over the White House.
Reagan spends part of each day answering personal correspondence with the aid of secretaries, spokesman Joe Holmes said today.
Every morning he gets a national security briefing by telephone from Richard V. Allen, who apparently will become his national security affairs adviser. Allen is briefed daily by the Carter administration and relays the information to Reagan.
Reagan has been visited occasionally by Michael Deaver, who is expected to get a top White House job. Deaver is the only close aide who has stayed in Los Angeles for the last 10 days. Most of the others, including Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) and Meese, have spent the majority of their time in Washington. James Baker III, the White House chief of staff-designate, has been winding up his affairs in Houston.
Reagan has posed for artists. He has been sketched for Time magazine and has sat for a bronze presidential medallion. This morning he telephoned new Republican Senate leaders.
The last announced meeting to discuss the incoming administration was Nov. 24, when Vice President-elect George Bush and top Reagan aides spent more than two hours at Reagan's Pacific Palisades home.
For a six-day period that began Tuesday and ends next Monday, when he is to fly to New York, Reagan has nothing on his schedule except dinners with old friends.
His spokesmen bristle at the idea that the president-elect is not in close touch with the process of forming his Cabinet and preparing for his administration.
"He is in constant contact with Meese and others," Lyn Nofziger said shortly before stepping down as Reagan's press secretary.
"He is making the decisions and he has made the decisions," Holmes said earlier.
"Make no mistake, the Cabinet will be Ronald Reagan's Cabinet and they will be there because he wants them there," Nofziger said.
No one suggests that Reagan isn't making decisions, but he has chosen to let the preliminary decision-making process he conducted in Washington and by conference telephone calls rather than in his presence.
Reagan has left Los Angeles twice since returning from Washington Nov. 21. He spent three days at his ranch above Santa Barbara and visited Palm Springs last weekend.
His love of California is evident. "There's going to be a pang in being so far away as we're going to be," Reagan told a reception in his honor here.
In Palm Springs, he said tribute to show business by recalling a time when practitioners of his former profession were under attack for having childish attitudes.
"It remained for a great journalist, Irvin S. Cobb, to respond," Reagan told a dinner audience that included many show-business figures. He quoted Cobb:
"If this be true and if it also be true that when the curtain comes down on eternity all men must approach the gates bearing in their arms that which they have given in life, the people in show business will march in the procession carrying in their arms the pure pearl of tears, the gold of laughter, the diamonds of stardust they spread on what might otherwise be a rather dreary world.
"And when at last all reach that final stage door, I'm sure the keeper will say: 'Open. Let my children in.'"