The prospect of Reaganite policy carried out by non-Reaganite officials in the new administration was dramatized by the contrast between the inaugural address and a backstage battle over who will be the nation's civil service chief.
Ronald Reagan's faithful followers, in Washington inaugural week to watch years of dreams and work become a reality, were overjoyed by an uncompromising address that committed the new president to radical change. But their joy was diluted by the apparent failure of one of their own, Dr. Donald J. Devine, to become director of the Office of Personnel Management.
OPM, successor to the old Civil Service Commission, certainly will not set the administration's philosophical course. Yet, continuing struggle behind the scenes over whether Reaganite Devine will be there represents the last sounding of this transition protest: those who so clearly share Reagan's ideology have been systematically excluded from much of his administration.
That Reagan himself since the election has remained faithful to his political movement is not questioned by his own followers. Rather, it is political opponents and news commentators from the first hour of his election victory who have perceived that Reagan was about to abandon his iedology now that power beckoned and was embracing "pragmatism."
It is mostly wishful thinking. Breakfasting with reporters Jan. 16, presidential counselor Edwin Meese in answers to questions laid down a general pattern of no retreat on all issues. That previewed Reagan's inaugural address four days later when he declared "there will be no compromise."
Seeming policy retreats during the transition were either false alarms or misunderstandings. Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan, who in his confirmation hearing suggested a six-month delay in the tax cut, during a Jan. 21 interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" changed his tune: "We're not talking about any delay." Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in his confirmation hearing seemed to be abandoning a 3 percent arms spending increase for NATO members. Confirmation hearings for his deputy secretary, Frank Carlucci, corrected the impression; Carlucci said 3 percent was only the "starting point."
Nevertheless, the Reagan political movement has been in declining spirits since Nov. 4 because ideology and political loyalty have not counted for much in appointments. Particularly intense was a long fight over a role in the adminstration for campaign defense adviser William Van Cleave, which ended inaugural weekend. Cut down from high expectations to a place on the National Security Council staff because of what Reagan aides termed abrasiveness, Van Cleave decided to go back to the University of Southern California faculty. c
The appointment as deputy defense secretary of Carlucci, a non-ideological civil servant, instead of Van Cleave has triggered more complaints than have been publicly revealed. One meeting of the steering committee, the informal group of conservative Republican senators was consumed by unhappiness about Carlucci (especially from newly elected members).
The most pained complaints have come from Reagan's regional political directors, who have looked askance at filling high office with non-political, non-ideological, non-Reaganite administrators. This is not merely the usual post-election grievance of the grassroots worker. Reagan's opeatives are committed -- often doctrinaire -- conservatives. They fear their exclusion from office is preparation for dilution of policy, and the Devine case has become a symbol.
Whereas Meese has privately cited lack of qualifications to justify rejecting Reagan's political operatives for office, that cannot be done with Don Devine, a political science professor at the University of Maryland. At least three other names have been floated in series for the OPM post against Devine, suggesting the search is for anybody-but-Devine.
Reaganites point the accusing finger at acting White House counsel Peter McPherson, who in 1976 battled for Gerald Ford in Maryland while Devine led Reagan's forces. He successfully blocked Devine from the state Republican chairmanship in 1978, later telling a friend that "Devine is too conservative." That Devine, Republican nominee for state controller in 1978, is now considered "too political" is traced to McPherson.
The treatment of Devine transformed what should have been a weekend of celebration into dark foreboding. Several key Republican state chairman met with Meese the day before the inauguration to plead Devine's case, but won no assurances.
Reagan's crisp reiteration of his credo the next day lifted the spirtis of his followers. But with Don Devine's fate still unclear, many politcal operatives here for the election and transition and now on their way home wonder whether non-ideological businessmen and administrators can be counted on to follow that credo. Their question: can Reaganism without Reaganites survive as government policy?