John Sununu was not what was wrong in President Bush's standingwith the American people. His departure will not cure it. He was hurting the president's relations with the Republican mandarins, which is something else, and was always available to be the fall guy.
The president's loss of popularity flows from the endemic recession, the greater anxiety surrounding it and the persistent perception that, economically and domestically, our foreign-policy president is out to lunch.
The opportunity this presents to a Democratic aspirant rests on the theory that the president cannot do anything right about the recession, because the nation is hopelessly mired in the deficit spending that it should only now be starting.
A second prospect is that, just as the Democratic coalition fell apart, the Republican coalition may be unraveling. It was based on anti-communism and faith in unfettered capitalism. It has lost the unifying menace of Soviet power. A prolonged recession brings out in many people doubts about capitalism, either that it suffices or that it is what we have. Only a strong recovery will dispel these doubts.
Which brings us to the man of the hour, the Democrat capable of seizing this window of opportunity, the one accused of preventing the Democratic race from starting. Since presidential races are endless, Mario Cuomo's alleged reduction of the duration of this one is a service to his nation. The grumblers are rival candidates or people who make a living on protracted politics.
Every day he ''procrastinates,'' Mr. Cuomo grows stronger and his Democratic rivals weaker. That's wrong?
This takes us, for research on the man himself, to a best-seller of 1984, ''Diaries of Mario M. Cuomo: The Campaign for Governor.'' It is his story, ostensibly a true diary, of his uphill campaign for governor of New York in 1982.
He was lieutenant governor, under the erratic Gov. Hugh Carey, indecisive about running in 1981. He started way behind Mayor Ed Koch of New York, who was favored in the Democratic primary as more in tune with the conservatism of the times.
For March 14, 1981, he wrote: ''So, the planning begins in earnest. It seems the campaigns never really end. It is necessary in the hurly-burly and excitement of this kind of thinking to remind yourself that the basic objective is not to win an election, or power, or fun, but to help improve the conditions of people's lives. It's not easy.''
April 12, 1981: ''It's clear to me the trend is strongly toward the right, and we, the Democrats, have lost much of our formerly presumed constituencies.
''We certainly can't take the black or Jewish voters for granted anymore. We must find ways to make the things we believe appealing to middle- and right-leaning 'reasonable types.' It's not easy to do without abdicating.
''My guess is that we have to make clearer, here in New York, our feelings about tax cutting, jobs, waste fighting and common sense. We must use fewer labels; the labels we like -- such as 'progressive' and 'liberal' -- can be misleading. We should talk more about family, too.''
Jan. 16, 1982: ''I am now in the midst of a campaign I cannot winIf I am successful at the polls, I will challenge the motivation that drove me to it, and wonder about the life it then requires.
''If I am not successful, I will feel again the sharp pain of rejection and 'humiliation' and will dislike myself for feeling it. But I am in the midst of it. For however long it lasts, it is here.
''The anticipation, the frenetic work, the perpetual motion, the frustration of a thousand tasks to perform without the time to perform them; the concern about the public appearance, the debates, acceptance by the editorial boards, trying to win the favor of a union or a contributor or an important leader without losing your soul; the exhilaration of the contest, the waiting for a hundred verdicts, the victories, the coups, the soaring prospects, the defeats, the losses, the betrayals, the depths, the fear of slander, the bitterness, the embarrassment, the tears, the satisfaction, the pride, the happiness.
''The campaign is on, and I will be part of every part of it -- and I will always be out of place.''
March 30, 1982: ''It's a little bit like being in a championship prize fight. There's no point in trying to figure out who's winning on points in the middle of the fight. What you have to do is land as many blows as you can each round, trying to duck as many as you can at the same time, then hope for the best when the judges file their ballots.''
May 25, 1982: ''I get the sense that people are eager to find something to believe in. They badly want a cause. That's why nuclear freeze is so popular. My whole case is an affirmative one that is aggressively confident of our ability to help ourselves.''
Sept. 5, 1982: ''Even if I am able to get a vote -- or a dozen, or thousand -- just by shaking hands, it offends me way down deep that it should be this way. But then, that's almost as true of doing it on television in 28-second bursts -- so maybe it's really the whole system that's somehow intellectually offensive. Interesting -- but academic.''
Nov. 1, 1982: ''An astrologist sent me a horoscope that said I was going to die on Election Day. I don't know if she meant literally or figuratively. Just in case she means it literally, I think I'll vote early.''
* * * That was then, this is now. There is only one thing to add: Run, Mario, run.
Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Sun.