Carter: nominated is not elected
It would be misleading to equate President Carter's prospects of re-election with the near certainty of his renomination. Adverse political forces will emerge when the nomination is behind him and the election is ahead of him.
In the first plce, part of Carter's current strenght comes to him because of Senator Kennedy's weakness. When voters have the choice between Carter and Kennedy, many of them may like neither one but come down on the side of the President because they like Kennedy less.
Already the President is beginning to slip in the polls at the points where he had been the strongest: overall approval rating down from 53 to 40 percent; conduct of foreign policy down from 45 to 34 percent; handling the economy down from 27 to 23 percent (dangerously low); relations with Russia down from 57 to 39 percent; handling the hostage situation down from 55 to 49 percent (below 50 percent for the first time).
I can see the time when the President's conduct of a broad range of foreign affairs -- the Iranian crisis, response to the AFghan invasion, relations with Israel, and delayed defense buildup -- can be a political liability to him as the campaign gets into full swing and the nominees get locked in debate.
The outlook is that the foreign crises will not long remain a sheilf to Mr. Carter and the sharpest public attention will be focused on where he is most vulnerable: the plight of the economy, rising inflation, mounting interest rates , unemployment, and a moderate or serious recession. These ominous issues will confront him with voter dissatisfactiona nd frustration. Many may not relish Ronald Reagan, but under forseeable circumstances voters may well be looking for a change, perhaps for its own sake.
For the first time in many years the pools show that a majority views the Republican Party as better qualified to deal with the economy than the Democratic Party is.
In the usually liberal, Democratic State of Wisconsin, Republicans outpolled Democrats in the recent primary for the first time since 1956 by about 900,000 to 626,000. For the President, this casts its shadow ahead.
There seem to me major areas where Carter will not be able to run on his record. He'll have to run against it, because his course has shifted so visibly and substantially.
The bitter, personal contest between Kennedy and Carter is proving deeply divisive inside Democratic ranks and the senator promises to keep campaigning until the convention, however poorly he fares in primary after primary. This will increase the divisiveness, and on top of it all Kennedy refuses to say whether he will support Carter if Carter is the nominee. That is the stuff out of which defeat is sometimes manufactured.
Finally, it seems to me that the tide of fiscal conservation which has domianted public opinion for the past several years will remain a major political force in the fall.
In recent monhts, state after state has been passing tax reductions and cutting spending after the style of Proposition 13.
The pools show that 60 percent of the public supports some kind of constitutional amendemnt to require a balanced federal budget.
In response to public demand Congress is currently outdoing the President in reducing appropriations.
I woudl expect the President to make an appealing campaign. He is well liked , widely esteemed as an honest and honorable political leader. He is not to be discounted. If he could win the first time by making a virtue out of his detachment from national experience, he could win the second time by making a virtue out of running against much of his own record.
All I am saying is that while Jimmy Carter seems to have his renomination locked up, he does not have his re-election locked up.