The top White House political aide yesterday warned Republican members of Congress who are "jumping ship" on President Reagan and his program that they hurt their own reelection chances as much as they weaken the president.
Expressing strong resentment at recent Republican criticisms of Reagan and his budget, presidential assistant Edward J. Rollins told reporters, "It is imperative our own troops be disciplined."
He said that "if the election were held today, there's no question we would have very serious problems," and added that it was essential for Republican survival that "we have a compromise on the budget in the not too distant future." He said he expected Reagan and Congress to resolve their differences, "but the longer the stalemate continues, the more difficult it is to turn things around."
Rollins, a Californian who served as deputy political director to Lyn Nofziger until Nofziger resigned in January, also confessed to concern about the administration's becoming "a symbol of racism" to moderates and minorities and a servant of the affluent in the eyes of many Americans.
In both cases, he said, Reagan was being undercut by members of his own administration. But Rollins saved his heaviest guns for moderate Republicans in Congress who he said "are trying to jump ship and put daylight between themselves" and the president.
"A lot of those Republicans never supported Ronald Reagan and never really accepted his leadership," Rollins said. "Now they are using the budget deficit" as an excuse for repudiating him. "The Republicans have to get back in line," he said. "It is imperative our own troops be disciplined."
He said most of the discipline would have to come from Capitol Hill GOP leaders, adding that Republican Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan had already shown potential defectors polls indicating they would hurt their own chances of reelection if they turned against Reagan.
But Rollins also indicated he was beginning to have "some heart-to-heart talks with these people," advising them that while Reagan is committed to support all Republicans, active assistance will not be given "someone who has just criticized the hell out of us."
Rollins was specifically critical of two senators, Bob Packwood of Oregon and Lowell P. Weicker Jr. of Connecticut, who have criticized Reagan recently. But he said any Republican who bolts hurts the party's prospects by weakening the president's leadership.
Rollins alluded to a poll taken by Robert Teeter of Market Opinion Research Co. for the Vander Jagt committee, which other sources said had shown that the more a voter approved of Reagan's job performance, the more likely he was to vote Republican in the November congressional election.
Rollins argued that the poll showed the need for more "discipline" among congressional Republicans, but GOP campaign aides on Capitol Hill disputed that interpretation. "It does not mean everyone has to go in lockstep," one aide said. "There has to be room for give and take."
Rollins confirmed that much of the news of the Teeter poll was ominous for the GOP. He said that it showed voters believe things have become worse in the past year, not just on unemployment but on inflation, which, in fact, has been substantially reduced.
He said the poll was pointing the White House toward a "more aggressive" political stance, aimed at reminding voters of "the sorry economic situation we inherited from Jimmy Carter. After all," he said, "the Democrats ran against Herbert Hoover for 30 years."
Rollins indicated he was urging an expanded travel schedule for the president and a program of purchased-time broadcasts, which might reach a larger audience than the mid-Saturday radio talks that Reagan has begun.
A major goal of the speeches and trips, he said, must be to overcome the reputation for unfairness and "racism" he said the poll had found clinging to the administration. He called this reputation his biggest worry.
Part of it, he said, stemmed from the budget cuts in domestic programs and the criticism they have drawn. But part of it he blamed on "lawyers in the Justice Department" who he said "raised technicalities" about the Voting Rights Act that obscured Reagan's intent to support extension of that law.
The "technicalities" Rollins referred to are the administration's opposition to the House-passed version, employing a "results" rather than an "intent" test of voting discrimination.
Rollins also blamed administration aides for feeding the impression that Reagan is often misinformed. Citing the comments Saturday of Edwin L. Dale Jr., the spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, on Reagan's defense of student aid program cutbacks, Rollins said: "Ed Dale sits there and says the president is not accurate, when the numbers were basically given the president by OMB . . . . That has to stop."
Rollins said Dale had been reprimanded by OMB Director David A. Stockman, adding, "We've done more damage to ourselves than anyone else has."