How does Ronald Reagan's choice of George Bush as his running mate affect the chances of Reagan's election in the fall? This was the fundamental political question in the wake of all the fascinating lesser speculations raised by Reagan's process of vice-presidential selection and dramatic midnight announcement of its outcome.
The effect on the election depends both on the number of extra votes Bush can draw and on the amount of campaign effort he can inspire on behalf of the ticket. The likelihood now is that he will not only get votes from "moderate" Republicans, independents, and Democrats disaffected by Carter -- but will spur campaign efforts by moderate Republicans who might otherwise vote for Reagan but not go out of their way to help. These factors should be especially helpful in Northeastern, suburban, and other areas where Reagan has been weak.
This promises a valuable step toward the broadening of the Republican base that has been seen as so necessary both to the GOP itself and to the two-party system.
But the effects will also be felt within the Reagan ranks and among the other conservatives who have opposed Bush. They are concerned that his stand against abortion is not strong enough, that he has supported the Equal Rights Amendment, that he represents an "Eastern elite" despite his roots in Texas, too. Such conservatives were strong at this week's Republican national convention. They went so far as to prepare the possibility of nominating one of their own should Bush be Reagan's choice.
They believe an upcompromising conservative ticket would be more effective. They cite a constituency including the vast audiences for fundamentalist religious broadcasters hardly known to the "Eastern elite" -- and to be slighted only at the Republicans' peril. It may be said they have nowhere else to give their votes than to Reagan whoever his running mate might be. But they recall being turned off by his choice of "liberal" Senator Schweiker four years ago.
And there is a question of whether their large potential as campaign workers will be realized with Bush dampening their enthusiasm.
Quite obviously Reagan tried to assure them with the announcement that Bush enthusiastically accepts the "whole" 1980 GOP platform -- meaning such points as the constitutional amendment against abortion and the turn away from long-time Republican support of the ERA. Some delegates expressed doubts that Bush could change overnight. The next day he said he did not want to look back at previous positions on things but to go ahead firmly on the basis of the platform.
Ironically, this stand could be two-edged. While wooing conservatives, it could alienate "moderate" Bush supporters who had favored him for the very reason that he did not totally fit the kind of platform engineered by conservatives in Detroit.
Yet platforms are not constantly on voeters' and campaign workers' minds; candidates cite them or ignore them when it suits their purposes. And, despite the convictions and emotions generated by issues such as abortion and equal rights which are seen to involve basic morality, the general public will doubtless make its judgment on the basis of a broad combination of things.
These include the state of the economy, defense, and foreign relations as stressed by Bush. Here he has been more on the Reagan wavelength all along, and he seems firmly dedicated to burying such differences as there are.
Of particular importance in voters' minds will be -- or should be -- their reading of Bush's capacity not only to distinguish the office of vice-president but to step in as president should the need arise. As the runner-up in the primaries he obviously convinced many Republicans of his presidential capacity. His wide experience in congressional, administrative, and diplomatic posts at a relatively young age is a clear recommendation. Much will depend now on his -- and Reagan's -- bearing and campaign conduct as the battle heats up. It will be too bad if he slips back into the "big mo" combat approach instead of pursuing his primary campaign's more effective approach -- offering alternatives to criticized policies and practices of the other party.