The best person in this city to provide an end-of-the-campaign assessment is Robert Strauss. Reporters in search of this wisdom met with Mr. Strauss not too many hours after the last debate. He apologized for not having much to say. But his body language told it all. This dedicated Democrat who is always so ebullient was unusually low-key. His usually ready banter seemed forced. His shoulders drooped a bit.
At the same time that he was saying Walter Mondale ''still has a chance,'' his body was telling us that those chances are more likely somewhere between slim and none.
Strauss moved quickly to a discussion of what would happen and what should be done after the election. Here are a few excerpts from what he said:
What is the next big political story after the election?
There is going to be a fascinating struggle for the soul of both the Republican and the Democratic Parties. You are going to see in the Republican Party a great effort by those other than the right wing to have some influence. And it is my understanding that there is a no-compromise attitude on the part of the hard right.
In the Democratic Party there are going to be people who are going to see that this party is going to have to be structured along lines that appeal more broadly and electorally - a party that would appeal to people in the South as well as in the North. And that would bring about the same sort of fight in our party that the Republicans will be having.
What is the prevailing mood in this country?
It isn't that (people) want to get government off their backs. They really want to get it to work better.
How can more effective government be brought about?
We are not nominating and electing people in the presidency who are in a position to make the government work better. And I don't think we are going to do that until we begin by reforming the whole election process.
What kind of reforms?
I would do two things, neither of which I would have considered doing as late as three or four years ago.
I would first go to a regional system in the presidential primaries - of about three regions along the time zones. Each time zone has a pretty good mix of Americans in it.
How would such primaries help a president be effective?
Because he then would be the nominee of all Democrats all over the country - not of just a number of states. He would then be more likely to have broader support in whatever he did.
And your other reform?
I would go for a six-year presidential term and hope for a president who then could be effective for more than a relatively few months after being elected. After their second year in office, presidents are almost totally concerned with getting reelected.