Some of President Reagan's domestic political advisers are growing restive over the administration's increasing focus on what one of them calls "bombs and ballistics" issues. The diversely hued Reagan team is united on the need for a strong military posture, but there is concern in the West Wing that the president may be overdoing it, even by his lights.
Public opinion surveys taken for the White House, some of which have also been seen by Republican congressional leaders, show deepening voter skepticism about U.S. military spending. On other issues close to the president's heart, these polls give even less comfort, indicating that a majority of Americans believes that the United States already has a sufficient number of missiles to deter the Soviets and that an even larger majority questions the wisdom of increased U.S. involvement in Central America.
Ironically, Reagan's emphasis on national security issues comes at the very time that the economic recovery predicted by the president and his aides for two years shows signs of occurring. The West Wingers would like the president to talk more about recovery and less about missiles and military hardware.
When it comes to national defense, however, Reagan is guided by his own convictions rather than public opinion surveys. He believes--and so do his national security advisers--that a strong case must be made for his defense budget to lessen the depth and impact of the reductions that almost certainly will be made on Capitol Hill.
Furthermore, Reagan was under pressure from NATO allies to propose a revised plan to limit the number of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, as he did last week. This fit neatly into his strategy of presenting defense budget increases as a necessary lever for arms control negotiations. Even those White House officials who think that the president's nationally televised "Star Wars" speech of the week before proved a dud believe that Reagan may have recaptured the initiative from the Soviets on the European nuclear arms talks.
Next come congressional tests on the nuclear freeze resolution and the MX intercontinental ballistics missile, of which the latter is by far the more important to the administration. In a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council last Thursday, Reagan all but invited Congress to tell him the terms on which it was willing to deploy the MX, calling for a "national bipartisan consensus" and confessing that "all of us are going to have to take a fresh look at our previous positions."
It is this insight, rather than any magic number of missiles, that is likely to guide Reagan this month when he receives recommendations on proposed MX deployment from the presidential commission appointed earlier this year. Some commission members would prefer to seek deployment of 100 MX missiles, while others would like 200 or more.
And some members don't think much of the compromise solution of shoving the MX into existing Minuteman silos, which would be vulnerable to Soviet attack even after they are hardened.
"But it's not the numbers or the basing system that really matters," said an official who has been close to the commission's deliberations. "What's important is getting Congress to agree on MX deployment so that the country will have a land-based deterrent and the administration will have a credible posture in strategic arms negotiations."
To reverse the president's position on intermediate-range missiles in Europe: many MX missiles are better than a few. Some are better than none.
Nancy Reagan brought the house down at the Gridiron Dinner last year with a self-deprecatory dance number mocking her reputation for ostentatious living. At this year's dinner, the president made his debut as a singer and stole the show with a number that poked fun at some of his aides and rhetoric. Cracked White House communications director David R. Gergen after Reagan's triumph: "The only thing left for them to do now is a duet."
Upcoming travel for the president includes day trips to Pittsburgh for a speech focusing on high technology and job retraining Wednesday and to New York to address the American Newspaper Publishers Association late next month. In early May, Reagan is scheduled to go to Ashton, Ohio, to honor the late Rep. John Ashbrook, a staunch Republican conservative. And the president is tentatively planning to address the National Rifle Association in Phoenix and spend a few more days at his California ranch. Reaganisms of the Week: "We've identified the worst hazardous-waste sites in America; now we have to identify the worst sources of pornography." (At a session with Morality in Media, an anti-pornography group.)
"I don't think that it's impossible to believe that among the Arab states there are other potential Israels . . . ." (A response to a question at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. What Reagan meant to say was "potential Egypts.")