The Times Mirror Center for The People & The Press said yesterday a national poll it took last month showed that 21 percent of the people -- not 51 percent as reported -- associated Republicans with "rich, powerful moneyed interests." In a previous poll three years ago, 18 percent made such an association. The big jump to 51 percent was cited in recent reports in The Post. Times Mirror said the incorrect figure was due to a computing error. (Published 10/13/90)

Huddled with his top advisers in the Oval Office early yesterday, President Bush faced the morning after: For the first time in his presidency, he had asked the nation directly for help, and America had said no. He had asked his fellow Republicans to stick with him and a majority of them, too, had refused.

How Bush, riding a wave of unprecedented presidential popularity lost one of the most critical tests of his 20 months in office is a story of a bipartisan budget negotiation that sputtered for six months and then spectacularly backfired; of a president with his heart overseas, not on domestic policy; and of a governing strategy centered on stopping congressional action after the fact with a veto rather than steering it forward.

But analysts and even some GOP strategists and Bush advisers acknowledged yesterday that the roots of the president's failure to marshal support for the agreement to reduce the budget deficit, were in his 1988 campaign, when he told voters the deficit could be tamed without sacrifice and without tax increases. "Certainly he is paying a price now for the read-my-lips campaign strategy," said John Kessel, an Ohio State University political scientist who studies the presidency.

Democrats eager to minimize the failure of their leaders, and a few Republicans, were quick to say yesterday that Bush's inability to get House GOP support for the budget package seriously diminishes his power. A senior official lamented, "It's one of those truisms here. The perception of power is power in Washington. If you can't bribe, threaten or cajole 80 House Republicans to stick with you, when it's critical, then when can you ever? And if you can't deliver votes, how can you deal?"

Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.) led the Democrats in mockery: "This is a president who has troops on foreign soil and he is unable to command his own party. He's the commander-in-part, not the commander-in-chief."

According to administration officials and others familiar with the White House budget strategy, the most immediate error in the administration's game plan was the failure to convince Americans of both the seriousness of the deficit problem and the need to sacrifice. "It would have been much smarter to use his political capital three months ago to start building the case and to continue building the case on why this was necessary," one Republican pollster said. "The voters don't believe it is necessary."

Thomas Cronin, a scholar on the presidency at Stanford University, said, "He didn't prepare people. He only went out after he was in trouble. He did too little too late. Leadership involves persuasion, making a case, building a case. Leaders need to prepare people when sacrifice is in order."

Administration officials today acknowledge that having remained essentially quiet on the subject of sacrifice, Bush's second error was "nakedly asking for support on the eve of the vote, on the basis of sacrifice." Looking into the television cameras, Bush said Tuesday night, "This is the first time in my presidency that I have made an appeal like this to you, the American people," and he pleaded, "Tell your congressmen and senators you support this . . . agreement."

Instead, administration officials said, Republican members were told the opposite by constituents who called. White House officials said the day after the speech, "Our guys said they were swamped with calls, all against. The thing just turned on us."

This week demonstrated, among other things, that Bush has not developed the infrastructure and techniques that Ronald Reagan frequently used to appeal directly to the public over the heads of politicians. When Reagan made major TV speeches his first two years in office, the White House organized positive responses in advance, with the conservative groups, some business groups and the party apparatus primed to set off a blizzard of calls to Congress. If the support wasn't there, Reagan's vote-counters often kept him off television until it was.

"There were a lot of doubts about whether this would work," one official lamented yesterday of Bush's Tuesday night speech. "But no one outright said 'don't do it,' and all our members were pleading, 'you gotta give us cover, you gotta give us cover.' "

Some Republicans said the White House staff, with Chief of Staff John H. Sununu at the helm, stumbled badly in counting votes, and plotting how to get a big package through Congress because its role the past 20 months has been the opposite: stopping what it sees as bad law rather than promoting new initiatives.

Bush has vetoed more legislation than any president at this point in his term since Franklin D. Roosevelt: 13 vetoes, none overridden. He has what the White House describes as a 33-plus-one legislative strategy: He works to get 34 votes in the senate, insuring his vetos will be upheld, since it takes a two-thirds majority of both houses to override a veto.

Added to the White House problems was widespread anger, even rage, among many Republicans over administration inability during months of bargaining to counter a skillful Democratic campaign to portray the president and his party as interested in only one thing -- giving tax breaks to the rich. A Times-Mirror poll released in September showed that unprompted voter responses to a question about what Republicans stood for found 51 percent linking the GOP to "rich, powerful monied interests," up from only 18 percent who did so in 1987.

Many political operatives and outside analysts said yesterday they did not believe Bush himself would suffer immediate political damage with the voters because his popularity, now at mid-70s level, is strongly tied to his handling of the Persian Gulf crisis and international affairs overall, buoying up much weaker support for his handling of economic and budget issues.

That Bush's heart is in foreign, not domestic policy, has been clear both during his campaign and his presidency. As Brookings Institute presidential scholar Stephen Hess put it, "He has so clearly been two presidents, one for foreign policy, one for domestic policy, one forceful and even imaginative, one laid back at best."

That Bush has spent little time thinking through the budget problem, as compared to the changes in Eastern Europe, for example, is evident to many. "He didn't like it {domestic issues} when he first ran for president, he didn't like it when he was vice president and he doesn't much like it now," said one longtime Bush associate. "He knows he can't avoid it, but that doesn't make him have to like it. All you've got to do is spend five minutes talking to him about China and five talking about the budget to know where he's at."

While few predict immediately apparent harm to Bush, political analysts predicted the president's inability to command support for the budget agreement will weaken him with Congress.

Said Cronin, "This isn't the end of George Bush's presidency. But it is an indication of what happens to presidents at midterm" when presidential popularity historically begins to take a slide, congressional reelection fears are at a fever pitch and serious post-election reality sets in.

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report