Are Republican politicians getting edgy?
At the beginning of the year there was a lot of doubt about whether President Reagan would run for reelection. Those doubts were mostly dispersed by bursts of campaign-like appearances by the president and by assurances from his aides that he would announce a decision to run at an appropriate time--perhaps after his trip to Asia this November. As the time for an announcement comes closer, the chances increase that the president will decide to run. But, at the same time, the politicians are getting a bit edgy. You can feel it in the air. What if Mr. Reagan should surprise almost everyone and decide to retire to the ranch?
Some politicians are quite forthright. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker has made clear his inclination to run if Mr. Reagan does not, and he keeps locked in a drawer a "1 percent plan" of what he needs to do in that event, whose likelihood he calculates as 1 percent. That Sen. Baker has convinced everyone he will not run if Mr. Reagan does has made it all the easier for him to describe matter-of-factly, as he did on "Face the Nation" Sunday, why he would like to be president. Almost as candid is the man Sen. Baker has named as his toughest competitor in such a race, Sen. Bob Dole. If Mr. Reagan doesn't run, Mr. Dole says, "there will probably be a group of us heading for Iowa. We ought to go family plan."
They will include, presumably, George Bush, who as vice president has very good reasons for remaining silent on his future political plans. As befits his station, he has confined his public statements to saying that he supports Mr. Reagan for reelection. There will also presumably be candidates more to the Republican right. Many Reagan supporters feel that Messrs. Baker, Dole and Bush believe in policies quite different from theirs.
Some of these Republicans are expressing dissatisfaction with President Reagan on various grounds; but none has a candidate to run against him--or a nationally known candidate to run should he choose to retire. They can argue that the likes of Sen. Paul Laxalt, Sen. Jesse Helms and Rep. Jack Kemp have adhered to conservative principle and have compiled records of achievement in government entitling them to serious consideration. But none of them can claim to have exercised the same responsibilities as Messrs. Bush, Baker or Dole.
So even the slightest possibility that Mr. Reagan will not run makes the Republicans nervous. If he runs, the Republican nomination will be uncontested for the first time since 1956. If he doesn't, hold on to your hat.