The Reagan White House may be manipulative, but it certainly isn't monolithic.
When the 1982 elections were being masterminded by the administration a few months ago, presidential strategists went through a long internal debate about the best way to use the formidable resources of the aging Great Communicator.
Some wanted him to "stay presidential," soaring above the political hurly-burly by sticking to the Oval Office and devoting himself to strategic vetoes, timely declarations on economic issues and foreign policy.
Others favored a limited, hang-out Rose Garden strategy in which the president campaigned from the White House with heavy emphasis on radio and television.
Still others wanted him to charge around the country on behalf of an endangered species, Republican incumbents.
What has happened is none of the above, or maybe all of it.
As Reagan prepared to wind his way into the western sunset this week for a final campaign fling, his strategists and pollsters were still debating the strategy that was to be settled two months ago.
Pollster Richard Wirthlin, who has generally favored an above-the-fray approach, wanted the president to campaign in Arizona and Utah where Wirthlin is surveying for Republican Senate candidates. The White House passed, at least for now, believing that Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) is safely ahead and that Arizona's Senate candidate, Peter Dunn, is hopelessly behind.
Pollster Robert Teeter, whose specialty is the recession-ridden Midwest, was skeptical of the president's campaign-trail value in 1982. Reagan kept his commitment to visit the hard-pressed central Illinois district of House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, whose popularity and hard work seem likely to pull him through, but the president has otherwise avoided the region in the closing days of the campaign.
Political adviser Ed Rollins, who has carried the banner for Republican candidates in the field, wanted Reagan to return to California to help the lagging gubernatorial campaign of state Attorney General George Deukmejian. After a difficult start, Rollins has won the grudging respect of key White House advisers, but he didn't prevail on this one.
The president is next scheduled to appear in California when he flies to his Santa Barbara area ranch the day before Thanksgiving.
The go and no-go decisions of the president's campaign have been made by a debating team of strategists headed by chief of staff James A. Baker III, deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver, Rollins, the two pollsters and representatives of the Republican campaign committees.
The team's current plan for pre-election week has Reagan scheduled in North Carolina Tuesday to help congressional candidates. He is to visit Wyoming, Montana and Nevada Thursday and will go to New Mexico Friday.
All of the western stops are aimed at keeping GOP control of the Senate. Challengers Larry Williams and Chic Hecht are trailing in Montana and Nevada, respectively, but Williams is rated an even bet to win. Incumbents Harrison H. Schmitt and Malcolm Wallop are leading in New Mexico and Wyoming, according to GOP polls, but Wallop's lead has declined from 26 points to a less secure 7, and the White House wants to help a Republican who has been consistently loyal to the administration.
Reaganism of the Week: "Now we are trying to get unemployment to go up, and I think we are going to succeed," the president declared at a GOP fund-raiser here last Monday.
Explanations of the Week: An administration official, relating how the Reagan management task force "Reform 88" was named: "We had figured out that the federal budget had quadrupled since World War II, so we took Catch 22 and quadrupled it."
And then there was the Republican advance man explaining why the crowd that turned out for the president at a central Illinois farm last week was about one-fourth of the 8,000 expected: "The farmers didn't want to get their tractors muddy." Republicans in House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel's district apparently are banking on the clean-tractor vote.
Mystery Program of the Month: Secretary of Labor Raymond J. Donovan's pre-election proposal to spend $2 billion to put jobless Americans to work repairing the nation's highways and bridges. It may be a swell idea but the president didn't know about it, the White House hadn't approved it and the administration hasn't budgeted for it and has no plans to undertake it. Donovan reportedly had chatted about the plan with White House counselor Edwin Meese III before deciding to plunge ahead on his own. Donovan unveiled the unapproved plan here while Reagan was campaigning in Omaha. White House spokesman Larry Speakes, improvising when no one in authority could tell him where the plan came from, found a handy use for the administration's all-purpose answer: "We don't go for quick fixes."
And the White House doesn't go that much for its secretary of labor, whose well-intended statement simply drew attention to how little the administration is doing to ease the pain of unemployment.