"THE PROBLEM with Republicans is that most of them in leadership positions never had to work for a living. Those people in the White House who have clout are from the upper crust. If you wear a certain kind of mink fur, if you are a Hollywood star, or David Rockefeller, or one of the biggies from California, you're welcome. But if you're the average guy, who've you got speaking for you?"

That's not a liberal Democrat speaking, that's Paul Weyrich, moral tactician and lobbyist--the Robespierre of the New Right. Weyrich sits in his office across the street from the railroad tracks in Northeast Washington, headquarters of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress. He wears gold-rimmed spectacles, suspenders and a wide tie, a waxworks rendition of a well-lunched Rotarian from some lost crossroads of mid-century America.

"Reagan's natural allies, who in many ways are more conservative than he, are looking at this administration and saying, 'Mabel, is that us?' And Mabel's looking, and saying, 'Harry, that ain't us.' "

At 41, Weyrich (pronounced Wy-rick) has a radiant quality more common to adolescence than middle age. His vision of political rectitude has not changed since he took over the Republican Party of Racine, Wis., in 1960, a well-scrubbed, 19-year-old theologue with press releases instead of pimples, inveighing against big government, big unions, big business.

"The 1980 presidential election rewarded incompetence, and that incompetence moved right into the White House. If you have to find out who makes the decisions over there, you will go insane. I challenge you to go to the White House and find out. You'll be in St. Elizabeths in short order, and I'll come visit you."

He probably would. Weyrich is a Washington anomaly: a blunt instrument in the citadel of safe-speak, a pin-striped populist, a devout ethnic northern Catholic allied with southern religious fundamentalists, and a Republican unhappy with Republicans in power.

Weyrich thought of the handle for Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. It was Weyrich who dreamed up the Heritage Foundation, the conservative response to the Brookings Institution. He nurtures a dozen right-wing groups under his tightly rolled umbrella, the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, and he is often linked with Richard Viguerie, the direct mailer, and Howard Phillips, director of Conservative Caucus, part of the leading troika of the New Right.

"Viguerie's the businessman," says an avowed New Rightist, "Phillips is the bomb-thrower, and Weyrich's the brains."

Weyrich has said, and says he still believes, "Ultimately everything can be reduced to right and wrong. Everything."

"He's dogmatic," says a congressional aide who has worked with Weyrich for a decade. "He irritates even his closest friends."

"Everybody has a Weyrich story," says one of those friends, like the time Weyrich went to see then-secretary of state Alexander Haig with a group of fellow conservatives. Weyrich interrupted Haig's review of global politics to tell him, "I didn't come here for a briefing. I came here to plan some action."

"Like his namesake," says the affable Viguerie, referring to the Biblical figure, "Paul feels intensely. He can really get down on you if he's unhappy with what you're doing, but he always comes back and apologizes."

Terry Dolan, the fourth horseman of the apocalyptic right, director of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, takes his time characterizing Paul Weyrich: "He's very bright."

It's 8:30 on a weekday morning, at CSFC headquarters. Maybe 40 political operatives from different organizations have gathered upstairs for a meeting of the Stanton Group, dedicated to hardball strategy for conservative causes. Weyrich sits alone at a table, gazing at the group with pale severity, brushing aside the wave of carefully groovedhair. A gavel protrudes from his fist.

To one side sits a hapless conservative recently returned from El Salvador, telling the audience about his experience with a guerrilla. Weyrich is obviously not impressed with that experience. He glances at his watch, and brings the gavel down.

"I'm sorry, you've taken all your time. There's not a person here who doesn't know everything you've told us." Weyrich instructs the others, "You think out ahead of time what you want done. Don't come here unless you're prepared to make specific proposals."

The speaker skulks back to his chair.

"We've taken this time and accomplished nothing," Weyrich adds, pointing to the man who put El Salvador on the agenda. "You're responsible for this."

Weyrich plays Rostropovich to the other "action items" on the agenda. He easily solicits $4,000 in contributions to the Committee for a Free Afghanistan; orders a "Dear Colleague" letter in behalf of radio broadcasts to Cuba; suggests a congressional reception, teach-ins ("We can't call it that, but it's the same thing") and a candlelight ceremony in Lafayette Square to counter forces in favor of a nuclear freeze; asks that letters be sent to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to remind them of a hearing on yellow rain; and recommends setting up a phone bank to push High Frontier, the satellite defense system, at the White House

Later, he says, "It's presumptive to run a meeting like that. The only excuse is to get things done . . . It's not a pleasant experience."

Weyrich has said, "We are radicals working to overturn the present power structures in this country," a sentiment he holds to, and one that annoys and frightens the great gray Pachyderm. The moderate Republican beast must sometimes depend upon Weyrich's friends to sway a close election. Ronald Reagan seems uncomfortable in the presence of the New Right. An establishment Republican who has worked for Gerald Ford and Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) speaks of the New Right with a disdain usually reserved for brown shoes encountered at White House receptions: "The New Right has no nuance."

Allan Ryskind, Capitol Hill editor of Human Events, journal of the so-called Old Right, tries mightily not to speak ill of another conservative. "Weyrich only cares about social issues. There's no great marriage between us."

Weyrich does not belong to a country club. He makes $65,000 a year, but most of his free time is spent with his wife and five children, and in the glitterless service of the Holy Transfiguration Greek Catholic Church, which he joined after judging the Roman Catholic Church too liberal. Occasionally he takes his son to see a trolley in a distant city, an interest that grew out of his lower-middle-class origins, and a New Rightist equivalent of mornings on horseback.

That's as close as Weyrich comes to recreation. He lives in Annandale, and drives a station wagon. According to friends and associates, Paul Weyrich doesn't do anything "for fun." That includes television, the mother lode of some of his ideological peers, but as far as Weyrich is concerned, a personal waste of time. His friends tend to be part of the movement, including Phillips, Viguerie and people in his own organization. He doesn't drink. Wrigley's Doublemint chewing gum is his only apparent vice.

He thinks Reagan has ignored issues most important to Weyrich: school prayer, an end to abortion, pornography, government "hand-outs"--issues that appeal to what he calls "cultural" conservatives, grass-rooters most concerned about family, God and country. That concern includes free enterprise, a balanced budget and a pre-eminent weapons system for America.

"Defense is a moral issue. If you can't defend yourself, then you can't exist."

The fundamental issue today, Weyrich says, is "survival. I mean that quite literally." The threat is the Soviet Union, to Weyrich a paragon of godless oppression. "There are some things worse than war. One is surrender--the moral consequences are such that the nation would be destroyed. Since I believe in eternal life, if it became necessary to sacrifice my life for my country or my beliefs, well, then I'm willing to do so.

"The people who have come up with the better-red-than-dead idea are not believers. They can accept internal imposition of alien values because they can continue at least to live. If there's no after-life"--he laughs aloud at the notion--"then that's all there is, man. That's the end."

He believes that White House aides choreograph the president into increasingly leftward arabesques to appease politicians more moderate than Reagan.

"I really don't think Reagan is a man of substance. He is a man of deep beliefs, but incapable of defending those beliefs, and even more incapable of translating those beliefs into practical action. He really is not aware of the consequences of much of what he does. It depends upon others to come to him and say, 'If you sign off here, this will happen.' And they may or may not be right.

"The people around Reagan become all-important. They, more than he, are the administration. They're quite bold about it. I have sat in meetings with them where they talk about, 'We'll use him for this,' and, 'We'll bring him out on that,' and, 'We'll crank him up on this' . . .

"If a person knew in his heart that he wasn't really participating in these decisions, and yet was the actual leader, then I would say that person had a serious moral problem. What I don't know is, given the background of this man who read other people's scripts for many years . . . how much is he aware of the translation of his actions into policy?"

If Reagan decides not to run for reelection--Weyrich thinks he won't run--and moderate Republicans try to nominate Baker or Vice President George Bush, "there will be a fight."

When he came to Washington as an eager young congressional aide, "I assumed that the leading conservatives had some kind of strategic meeting. It took me a year and a half to realize there was no such meeting. Then I had this fortunate experience." He witnessed a liberal coven on the Hill, put on by aides to liberal senators Birch Bayh, Alan Cranston and Charles Mathias, and attended by representatives of the Congress for Racial Equality, Brookings and a public-interest law firm.

"They were protesting what they saw as a retreat on the part of the Nixon administration in the fair housing area . . . All I did was sit there with my mouth open, watching the system being orchestrated, including getting outside demonstrators, when to get the op-ed piece in the newspaper so it would coincide with the demonstrations, when to have personal lobbying, who was going to speed up the timetable at Brookings to get their study out. It was magnificent.

"I said, 'Thank you, Lord. I have needed this insight.' From that moment on, I became single-minded in trying to replicate that type of thing in the conservative movement."

That was in 1967. Three years ago, liberal candidates around the country were done in by conservative single-issue organizations. People who had never heard of Dolan's NCPAC suddenly couldn't live without their own political action committees. Liberals and moderates paid the New Right the ultimate compliment of imitating their organizational and fund-raising techniques.

Some people consider Weyrich and his associates a threat to the republic. Television producer Norman Lear formed People for the American Way just to keep track of their activities, and to raise money to oppose them. "Conservative Caucus and the other groups have been doing the same thing we do for years," says a worker in the Washington office of PFAW, which distributes a film denouncing the New Right, narrated by Burt Lancaster.

Last year, many candidates backed by NCPAC and other social conservative groups lost in congressional elections, leaving their influence debated among political observers. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the chevalier of the cultural conservatives, filibustered the proposed tax increase, and lost. The movement was pronounced dead by many of its foes before its baby shoes could be bronzed.

"The sentiment we represent in the countryside is there," Weyrich insists. "If anything, it is stronger. The 1980-82 period was the most frustrating in my life. Everybody said, 'I don't want to move unless the administration is with us.' The 1982 elections . . . created an entirely new attitude out there, to get together and do something."

If Weyrich could pick his presidential candidate, he would choose Sen. William Armstrong (R-Colo.), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) or Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.).

"If a liberal Democrat gets elected in 1984, he will have a great dilemma because he will either move to control some of the extreme groups in the liberal coalition, in which case they will turn on him, or he will seek to accommodate them, in which case the American people will be outraged. He can't win, no matter what he does. The question is, will the institutional reforms the liberals adopt . . . make it impossible for their opponents to rise again?"

His conservatism stems from an archetypal immigrant experience. Weyrich's father, a farm worker in Germany after World War I, encountered inflation in a country tavern where a month's wages bought only a glass of beer. He never got over the experience. A priest from his village already living in America paid for his passage to this country, and got him a job stoking the furnace in a Catholic hospital in Racine, where the priest was chaplain. The senior Weyrich worked there for 50 years.

He was deeply religious, deeply concerned about national politics, qualities that affected his son. "You could feel his pain when a bad decision was made," Weyrich recalls, "and his joy when he thought the decision was good. I thought all households were like that."

They were the only Republicans in a lower-middle-class neighborhood full of Czechs, Italians, Slovaks, Ukrainians and blacks who all carried lunch buckets. Weyrich's father sent his son off to school with a Robert Taft button pinned to his lapel. "The nuns asked me who Taft was. I said, 'He's running for president.' And they said, 'No, he isn't. Adlai Stevenson's running for president.' "

Weyrich memorized the names of cabinet members while his classmates fanned their baseball cards. He planned to enter the seminary, but "it would be misunderstood if I said the Lord spoke to me. I didn't hear a voice. But the compulsion from within was not to do it . . . I think the Lord was trying to save me from what was coming in the church the reforms of Vatican II , which I never could have put up with."

A precocious high school debater, he attracted the attention of a local Republican businessman, Gordon Walker, who raised money to pay for Weyrich's trips to debating contests, and generally encouraged this milk-faced, forensic conservative rising inexplicably from the industrial midden. "He came from modest means," says Walker. "I think he wondered where he fit in."

Weyrich had already noticed that Democrats on his mother's side of the family were just as conservative as the Republican Weyrichs. He began to suspect that "historical and regional differences kept natural allies from working together."

After high school, he visited relatives on the South Side of Philadelphia, and spoke out on the abuses of big government. His host asked him to address the neighbors. "Here I was, 17 years old, sitting on the floor with all these working people, talking about why the Democrats weren't good for them. And they're all agreeing, and saying, 'You're the first Republican we ever met.' The light bulb went on."

He enrolled in the University of Wisconsin, working at a radio station, WLIP, to support himself. Two years later, married and drawn into free enterprise out of necessity, he dropped out of college for good. "My conservative critics never fail to mention that I never got a degree. They say I lack 'intellectual depth.' "

Weyrich worked as a reporter for radio and television stations, and for the Milwaukee Sentinel, and landed in Denver as a news director for KQXI. There he attracted the attention of another Republican, Gordon Allot, candidate for the U. S. Senate. When Allot won the election, he asked Weyrich to accompany him to Washington.

After Weyrich's decision to organize the conservatives, he asked for assistance from Joseph Coors, the conservative beer magnate from Colorado, who put up $250,000 to launch the Heritage Foundation, modeled after Brookings, to provide quick responses to governmental initiatives. Ed Feulner, cofounder and current director, says Weyrich "was an eager-beaver type of activist, with broad, long-range views."

But Weyrich couldn't be involved in electoral politics as the president of a foundation. So he left Heritage and started the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress. With only $5,000 more from Coors, CSFC engaged Viguerie to start a direct mail campaign, and eventually raised half a million dollars for conservative candidates in 1974.

The beneficiaries of Weyrich's organization and political acumen grew steadily over the years. He concentrated on the Congress, ignoring hopeless candidates, and those who could win without him.

Weyrich was the only conservative leader to call upon Robert Bauman, a conservative congressman from the Eastern Shore charged with soliciting sex from a teen-age boy, to resign. "My friends on the right said, 'Who are you to set yourself up as judge?' What I said was, he could not be a credible spokesman for the pro-family movement, given the admissions he made. I did not say because he was a sinner. If we had that criteria, we would have no leaders."

Weyrich wanted John Connally to be the Republican nominee in 1980, but he supported Reagan after he won the nomination. At a party on election eve, Weyrich watched the Reagan landslide come down. "I said, 'That's the worst thing that could have happened. They will not now understand that they owe anything to anybody.' "

He gazes out the window at the Joseph Coors Wing of his domain, his face illuminated by the pale light of Capitol Hill. He unwraps a stick of Wrigley's, folds it twice, and slips it into his mouth.

"I'm involved in a fight. I won't call it a crusade . . ."

He chews with the deliberation of Diogenes.

"It gets lonely occasionally."