Surrounded by Reagan Democrats, including former Massachusetts governor Ed King and former Boston mayor John Collins, and liberally quoting the revered John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan took the cheers of thousands here on the last Thursday of his last campaign. That the Republican conservative incumbent at this late hour boldly invaded the opposition's stronghold -- the only commonwealth to have voted for every Democratic ticket from Kennedy-Johnson to Carter-Mondale -- is more telling than all the polls, published or unpublished. Reagan is on the verge of a landslide victory. But, unlike 1980, it is to be a landslide without a mandate.
While most press criticism has fixed on the shortcomings of the Mondale organization, the 1984 Reagan effort may well turn out to be a campaign masterpiece and a political disaster. The Reagan campaign, which, like all campaigns, is little more than a mirror reflection of the candidate with whom credit or blame must ultimately reside, effectively submerged any ideas for a 1985 agenda, any vision of where, specifically, Reagan would seek to lead the nation in a second term. The 1984 Reagan campaign has been more than disingenuous, it has been a disservice to the president. To win legislative support, Reagan, more than most chief executives, has relied on voters' validation of his programs rather than personal leadership. That will be tough to do in 1985.
In 1981, there were no surprises for those who had listened to Reagan in 1980. As president, he set about doing what he said he would do: cutting the size, scope and spending of government, doubling the defense budget and cutting taxes by a third. Balancing the budget was also mentioned. But after submitting four budgets which together called for deficts totaling $505.7 billion, the administration still speaks wistfully of a balanced-budget constitutional amendment.
Back when the Republicans were in what seemed to be a permanent congressional minority, championing the balanced-budget amendment, just like voting against any increases in the federal debt ceiling, was fun politics with which to torment the governing majority party. But after converting to suppy-side economics, which essentially ignores deficits in favor of economic growth, Republicans and the White House would do well to follow the consistent leadership of Rep. Jack Kemp who, to his credit, refuses to indulge in the frivolous deceit of simultaneously advocating tax cuts and a balanced-budget amendment.
Now shattered is the national consensus on defense budgets which candidate Reagan helped forge in 1980. Even the president's ouchless, painless, New Patriotism -- doubling the defense budget and then not paying for it by cutting everybody's taxes by one quarter -- is in some trouble. Americans now believe the Pentagon wastes their money, that defense cuts can and must be made.
When the polls close on Tuesday night Ronald Reagan will be a political lame duck who will never again run for public office. In Washington, the perception of power frequently is power. Thanks to the 22nd Amendment, which limits presidents to two terms, the perception of the president's power will soon be dimmed. In Reagan's last campaign he once again ran against the past, making the 1984 vote a referendum on the 1980 results. The electorate's ratification Tuesday of its 1980 choice of Ronald Reagan's America over Jimmy Carter's could produce a 1984 landslide. But there will be no mandate for 1985. It could be a long four years.