THE President's strongest point is in pulling critics over to his side. Recently, a senator who has for years harbored strong misgivings about Mr. Reagan told how he had been won over by the President. This senator had disagreed with Reagan's defense buildup and tough rhetoric in dealing with the Soviets. Further, he couldn't see that Reaganomics offered an enlightened approach to curing the economic ills of the country. ``But,'' he said, ``Reagan got inflation down and the economy is doing well. And I can promise you one thing: He'll get that $50 billion in spending cuts that he's asking from Congress.''
The senator said that he had been opposed to the MX and to ``star wars.'' ``But,'' he added, ``that's what has gotten the Soviets to the negotiating table. Obviously I was wrong.'' He added that Reagan had the capacity for getting things done -- and that he was not really an ideologue but a pragmatist and superb politician.
It is the season for people, even critics, to laud a President as he follows up an overwhelming victory at the polls with his inaugural into another four years.
Columnists like Joseph Kraft and David Broder, whose politics have never been adjudged Republican, have penned glowing words about Reagan's first term. Writes Mr. Kraft: ``Reagan has revived a great office.'' Writes Mr. Broder: ``It is no exaggeration to say he [Reagan] has rescued the office [of presidency]. . . . The achievements of the first term are almost enough in themselves to give Reagan standing as a historically significant president.''
As Reagan begins another four years, he has defanged his critics with his brilliant choice of those who will make up the new team to conduct negotiations with the Soviet Union in the forthcoming arms talks.
Chief negotiator will be Washington lawyer Max M. Kampelman, the same Kampelman who was regarded for years as the closest adviser to Hubert Humphrey. And the same Kampelman who served as an adviser on foreign policy to Walter Mondale in the recent campaign.
Mr. Kampelman was both a Lyndon Johnson and a Jimmy Carter appointee. Under President Carter he served as ambassador to the European Security Conference in Madrid, where he showed himself to be such a hard-nosed negotiator in his dealings with the Soviets that Reagan kept him on in that post.
Kampelman's appointment is calculated to keep Reagan adversaries off balance. Besides his long- standing liberal ties, there is his refusal to serve in World War II, when he was granted conscientious-objector status. This liberal, noncombative side of Kampelman might ease some anxieties of doves who might believe him too hawkish in negotiating with the Soviets.
Mr. Reagan is convinced that philosophically Kampelman is in agreement with him on what to expect from the Soviets and how to deal with them. He applauded the way Kampelman stood up to the Soviets in Madrid. He is well aware that Kampelman believes that only through a firm approach, along with consistency and patience, can an effective arms pact be put together.
Gen. Edward L. Rowny was not reappointed. This, too, may ease some anxieties of doves. But Reagan's appointment of former Sen. John G. Tower to the team should reassure those who want no dilution of the President's firm approach.
So the President is again disarming his critics as he goes into an arms negotiation that holds the possibility of success -- a success that could make Mr. Reagan one of the truly significant Presidents in history.
Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.