Among the postmortem theories on why Judge Bork isn't likely to become Justice Bork, Sen. Charles Grassley offered a memorable grabber: horses. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who operates a hog farm and gets back to it as often as possible for the pleasures of slopping his Yorkshires, explained to America why Bork lost: "While Ron and Nancy were riding horses in August, the opposition was organizing."

Clearing brush and fence-mending were not mentioned as co-causes of the defeat. No overkill for this Iowa hog man. A horsey-set president vacationing with his wife was disgrace enough.

Grassley's interpretation of Bork's defeat has the intellectual substance of a barnyard snort. It's the sound of a sore loser. Losing, apparently, is a sensation from which Bork's supporters thought, by divine right or Reagan's winning 49 of 50 states in 1984, they were exempt.

They are accustomed to having their conservative way with court appointments. The president has placed more than 320 judges on the federal bench, all with lifetime appointments. A third of the nation's district-court judges are Reagan appointees, the same percentage found on the Supreme Court. All the Reagan nominees passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now that one judge is not among the 320, the Reagan-era right wing is throwing a national tantrum.

Reagan, who enjoys taking symbolic "responsibility" for his administration's mistakes, was having none of Grassley's unsymbolic gripe. He outdid the senator in sore losing by saying that Bork was a victim of a "lynch mob." The metaphor is one that black opponents of Bork could appreciate, lynching being a method of mob justice not so distant in America's racist past that older blacks can't remember it.

The sorest loser of all may be Leonard Garment, the former counsel to Richard Nixon and now a Bork defender. Like Reagan, Garment prefers metaphors that are both historical and gory: The attacks were an "inquisition." The debate was "full of accusations about bad motives and bad faith."

Garment, of course, presented himself as all good motives and good faith. He put his civic virtue on display in a Sept. 25 letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), which was published Oct. 8 in The Wall Street Journal.

The Washington insider's insider, Garment cupped his hands and went psst: He and Bork are men of the left. It seems that when Bork became Nixon's solicitor general in 1973, Garment dealt with him on "important" civil rights cases: "I was usually on the sparsely populated liberal side of the internal debates surrounding those cases, and during the brief period when our government service overlapped, I usually found that Judge Bork was my ally."

That's a new one -- Bork the lefty. Garment's fantasy was believing he could put it over on Specter. The same day the Journal was carrying Garment's letter, The New York Times ran Specter on "Why I Voted Against Bork." The senator, who had spent the August recess reading many of Bork's 145 circuit court opinions, 80 speeches and 30 law-review articles, had had two long personal discussions with Bork. Specter had voted last year for William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia. If anyone had distanced himself from the alleged lynch mob and inquisition, it was this Republican. Among other problems, Specter was "troubled by {Bork's} writing and testimony that expanding rights to minorities reduced the rights of majorities. While perhaps arithmetically sound, it seemed morally wrong."

Specter's "no" was cast carefully and honorably. No imagined mob got to him or to the other committee members who listened, read, pondered and voted no. At the hearings, Bork had 30 hours to present himself. More witnesses, including a former president and a Supreme Court chief justice, appeared for Bork than against. In the end, the testimony of Bork's powerful friends carried as much weight as book-jacket blurbs from pals of the author.

None of the forecasts about Judiciary Chairman Joseph Biden's alleged shoot-to-kill hostility to Bork came true. Throughout, committee conservatives praised Biden for his fair-mindedness.

Excesses occurred, beginning with the bullhorn stridency of the National Abortion Rights Action League, which claimed that Bork threatens "every advance women have made in the 20th century."

Irrationalism is expected from that group. But it isn't from the office of the president. Reagan is different. At the desperate end, he was reduced to spray-paint simplicities: "Three choices are what this battle is all about: The choice between liberal judges who make up the law or sound judges who interpret the law. The choice between liberal judges whose decisions protect criminals or firm judges whose decisions protect the victims. The choice between liberal judges selected by the liberal special interests or distinguished judges selected to serve the people."

This devil theory is an extremism that probably even Bork wouldn't buy