President Jimmy Carter’s list of New Year’s resolutions reads like the battle plan for Balaclava. There are cannons to the right and to the left of him so he will need to be especially nimble as he charges down the middle toward his elusive objective—re-election in 1980. As the president enters the second half of his term he must devote a substantial amount of his energy to political manoeuvring because he is already being stalked by two super-powerful members of his party as well as at least seven leading Republicans.
For those used to the parliamentary system it appears ridiculous, even dangerous, that a leader with Carter’s power and position should be forced to spend two full years ensuring his reo election. But that is how it is, so action § on issues as explosive as the Middle z East, China, the arms race, inflation 2
and recession will be governed by percentages in the all-powerful opinion polls.
Carter is sure to be pulled to the conservative right (just as he was during the 1976 campaign) to counter-attacks from challengers such as Ronald Reagan, Philip Crane, John Connally and Senator Robert Dole. Moderate Republicans such as former president Gerald Ford, George Bush and Illinois Governor James Thompson will do much to keep the president’s fiscal policies in tight line. At the same time, threatened challenges for the top job from fellow Democrats Jerry Brown, the way-out governor of California, and Senator Edward Kennedy, the darling of the liberals, will pull Carter the other way.
Although he has not yet officially declared himself, there is little doubt that the front-running Republican is former California governor and onetime film star Ronald Reagan. Leader of the party’s vocal and dominant right-wing faction, Reagan, a most persuasive and attractive speaker, was only just kept
from the 1976 nomination by ex-president Ford.
He has two disadvantages—his age (69 in 1980) and his image as an ultraconservative. The pundits reckon that he might take the southern and western states in a presidential election, but could lose pitifully in the north. But he will still mount a powerful attack on the president in coming months. Reagan will charge that under Carter the U.S. has grown steadily weaker and that a SALT agreement will give the Soviet Union even more of an advantage. Carter will counter by continuing to press for heavy defence spending and as tough a treaty as possible. On China, Reagan will simply rub away at the scar caused by the dropping of that old ally, Taiwan. But he’ll be careful not to go too far because America’s top businessmen—most of them Reagan Republicans—expect to benefit greatly from increased trade with Peking.
Lastly, Reagan will use the OPEC increases (see story on page 20) to point up rising inflation and unemployment,
insisting that domestic oil prices be deregulated to stimulate domestic oil production and thereby stop oil “blackmail.” There, Carter is in difficulty. If he allows domestic prices to rise to the OPEC level voters will have to pay even more for a gallon of gas and he is bound to lose popularity.
So, as Reagan’s chief political adviser told Washington journalists at a ham and eggs breakfast recently, the president will be vulnerable in 1980. The Reagan camp—indeed most Republicans—believe that by then the nation will be convinced Carter is unable to deal with economic woes, particularly inflation, and that he is out of his element in foreign affairs. The “collapse” of the Camp David agreements will be cited as “proof” of that proposition and,
should the president misplay his China hand, that too will be seized upon.
The candidate most deeply into campaigning so far, however, is another right winger, Congressman Philip Crane from Illinois. He has raised $650,000 to back his wild-card venture and says he can get $15 million more. His plane, “The Early Bird,” has taken him barnstorming in 37 states in the past three months. “When Jimmy Carter gets through with the dollar, they’ll call it the J.C. Penney,” he says. But Crane, 48, is expected to lose a lot of
support as soon as Reagan officially announces he is running.
The results of last fall’s midterm elections have boosted the hopes of another would-be president, Big John Connally, the former Democratic governor of Texas. Connally switched parties some years back and drew national praise for his handling of the economy as Richard Nixon’s treasury secretary. This fall he campaigned for Republicans in 41 states and is credited, among other achievements, with getting multimillionaire William Clements elected as governor of Texas.
A dynamic figure and a rousing speaker, Connally has bought a house in New Hampshire—ready for that state’s primary election (the first in the race) in January, 1980. But there is some speculation that Connally would accept second place on a Reagan ticket, thereby becoming handily placed to succeed Reagan, who would be 73 at the end of his first term and might not run again.
Ford would like to get back into the White House, but there is still some doubt that he will seek his party’s nomination. Betty Ford’s recent book, showing her husband to be a total political animal who neglected his family, has not done his image much good. Ford’s close advisers say that he wants to keep on the sidelines, ready to step in to break any convention deadlock. In the meantime, he has organized a heavy schedule for the next 12 months, keeping his name and face before the public.
Senator Dole, a war hero who was Ford’s running mate last time, has no more than an outside chance at the nomination. A conservative, he is overshadowed by Reagan and Connally. But George Bush, a former ambassador, former head of the CIA and former chairman of the Republican party, is a more potent threat. Less flamboyant than Dole, he is also a moderate in most things and has an air of authority that could stand him well. Almost exactly the same could be said for Governor Thompson. But he is less well-known and has to be seen as a compromise liberal Republican choice. Senate ma-
jority leader Howard Baker Jr. of Tennessee is in the same category.
The New Hampshire primary could decide a great deal. David S. Broder, the respected political analyst at The Washington Post, has speculated that Reagan, Connally, Crane and Dole will have to share the conservative Republican vote, ensuring that none emerges a clear winner. And that could leave the road open for a moderate—most likely Bush.
On the Democratic side a lot depends on Carter’s popularity toward the end of 1979. If it is low, Governor Brown is nearly certain to launch a challenge. He will hit the president for being too conservative, for spending too much on arms and too little on welfare. Should the governor do well in early primaries, weakening Carter’s support among the party faithful, there would probably be a cry for Kennedy—the most popular man in Democratic politics—to enter the race. Should Kennedy do so, the betting in Washington is that he could wrestle the nomination away from Carter. But the wise money still predicts that Kennedy will keep out of the race. He is waiting until 1984 when he will be that much further away from the scandal of Chappaquiddick and is virtually certain of nomination without splitting the party.
So, as The Wall Street Journal said last week, “Jimmy Carter is at the crossroads of his presidency.” He ended his first year in office looking incompetent. During 1978 he has made some bold moves that have eased concern. The next year will show just how skilled he really is. Particularly during the past six months, Carter has grown in the job. He is far more comfident, far more “presidential.” But he needs victories. He must win Senate ratification of the SALT treaty and he needs to convince Americans that he can handle the Middle East, Iran and Africa. He needs to calm fears about Taiwan’s security. His chief political adviser, Hamilton Jordan, says: “Thank heavens the president thrives on challenges.” He will have to cope more skilfully with them than the Light Brigade did at Balaclava.
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