Think of Kevin Phillips as the Karl Marx of the Great American Middle Class.

When Middle America felt itself under attack from hippies and limousine liberals, from social engineers and cop-haters, Kevin Phillips was there to turn adversity into strength -- the electoral strength of Richard Nixon, whom he hailed as the voice of real Americans and helped to victory in 1968.

Then, in the 1969 book that secured Phillips's reputation when he was only 29, he predicted "The Emerging Republican Majority." Twenty-one years later, after a resurgence of conservative political thought and a series of Republican presidential landslides, the Phillips prediction still looks pretty good.

What defies prediction is Phillips himself.

How many conservative Republicans do you know who condemn Ronald Reagan and his era for creating "a new plutocracy," for leaving America with "too many stretch limousines, too many enormous incomes and too much high fashion?" So writes Kevin Phillips in his new book, "The Politics of Rich and Poor".

Phillips talks that way too, punctuating his sometimes donnish sentences with reference upon reference to the conspicuous consumption of the leisure classes. "You can't just let the resources that were redistributed in the 1980s sit in the hands of people who subscribe to Yachting magazine and Architectural Digest," he said last week over lunch at the conspicuously tasteful Vincenzo's.

Not since the heyday of the proletarian writers of the 1930s has an author taken so much pleasure in bashing the rich. In his book, Phillips savages "Calvin Coolidge birthday parties hosted by parvenu GOP Washington lobbyists and consultants happy to tell attending gossip columnists the price of their new Savile Row suits."

You would think Phillips's new book would be as welcome in Republican circles as a homeless socialist at one of those glittering Reagan-era soirees. But conservatives have become inured to Phillips and his continuing, or evolving, apostasy. More than a decade ago, William F. Buckley Jr.'s National Review branded Phillips's ideology "country and western Marxism." Phillips liked that so much he quoted it proudly in his 1982 book, "Post-Conservative America."

The label is apt for a man who defends the interests and values of Middle Americans with the same enthusiasm Marx mustered on behalf of 19th-century industrial workers.

Class anger, in fact, is the key to understanding the consistency of Phillips's world view. And though he's not part of the angry middle class, he's definitely angry -- no less in 1990 than he was in 1969.

Back in those days, the elitists he loved to hate lived in places such as Cambridge and Hollywood, and their condescension to Middle America was cultural. Phillips's new villains look down their noses, he tells us, from such places as "Rodeo Drive, Sutton Place and the Florida Gold Coast." Their standard of superiority isn't culture. It's money.

In an age when most Democrats believe that stirring class resentment is dangerous -- and, in any event, just isn't done -- here is a serious political analyst whose book is chock-full of lists of billionaires and the annual salaries of the country's best-paid lawyers and investment bankers.

Righteous indignation pours from Phillips's pages as he reviews the 1980s: "Dollar signs were society's reemergent denominator ... luxury became increasingly conspicuous. ... In Greenwich, Connecticut, where the distant view of Long Island Sound from Round Hill Road was almost worth an SEC violation, average housing prices rose with the bull market. ... Glossy life-style and business magazines were flourishing. ... Money used to talk. Now it shrieks.' "

William Jennings Bryan wouldn't have liked Architectural Digest or Round Hill Road either. Which raises the question: Is Kevin Phillips crucifying his Emerging Republican Majority on the Cross of Populism?

The Numbers Junkie Phillips acknowledges that he is a highly unlikely populist. He wears monogrammed shirts and conservative pin-striped suits. He drives a Jaguar. Although he publishes a well-regarded political newsletter, he draws a significant chunk of his income from another newsletter for business executives, and from a busy schedule of speaking appearances before business groups.

His opposition to high budget deficits, Phillips notes, is a thoroughly orthodox Republican position -- pre-Reagan. It is the Republicanism of Bob Dole, for whom Phillips cast a vote (over George Bush, whom he disdains as a symbol of the old-school-tie Republicanism of Round Hill Road) in the 1988 primaries. Phillips's philosophical penchant for government-sponsored national economic planning, he says, is akin to the prescriptions of Felix Rohatyn, the New York investment banker who is a liberal but hardly a populist.

When Phillips attacks educated elites, he speaks as an insider. He graduated from Colgate and (like Michael Dukakis, whom he eviscerates in his book) from Harvard Law School. Even at Harvard in the early 1960s, Phillips insists, his Republicanism had an anti-elitist cast. "I noticed that the Harvard Republican Club contained all these kids from unfashionable places," he recalls. "All the kids in the Democratic Club were the sons of New Deal lawyers who had 'III' after their names. Well, that wasn't the way it was supposed to be, but it was telling us something."

To understand what makes Phillips tick, you have to hear how almost any discussion on almost any subject winds back to migration patterns, voting history and political geography. This is a man who loves data.

The talk over lunch begins with Phillips speaking fondly of his country house in western Connecticut and how much he likes to escape there. Within minutes, the conversation has turned to small towns in New England and why they look very different from small towns in Virginia: because the dominant Congregational churches in New England were "middle class" and had a different approach to town planning than the upper-class Episcopal churches that dominated in Virginia.

From there, the talk drifts to resemblances between different parts of Upstate New York and New England -- because of migration patterns out of the Berkshires. And then to 18th-century Indian raids and their impact on these migrations. Naturally, it's a short leap from there to voting patterns in Scotland -- yes, Scotland -- and why the Scots hate Margaret Thatcher so much.

Phillips is an especially successful example of a common type in American politics: the young political numbers junkie whose obsession endures into adulthood.

In Phillips's case, the lure of numbers took hold when he was 13 or 14. He found treasure troves of "crumbling old World Almanacs" in the warren of old bookstores on Fourth Avenue in Manhattan's Lower East Side, a subway ride away from the middle-class Parkchester neighborhood in the North Bronx where he grew up.

World Almanacs are to election freaks what old baseball cards are to baseball fans: a source of an almost limitless variety of statistics. Among other things, World Almanacs include the results of presidential elections county by county. If you want to follow presidential voting through the years in Dixie County, Fla., Charles Mix County, S.D., or Deer Lodge County, Mont., all you need is a sufficiently large collection of World Almanacs.

So the young Phillips took his collection and started drawing maps of all kinds, especially political maps. His father, a top official at the New York State Liquor Authority and (though a registered Republican) a relatively apolitical civil servant, had doubts about Kevin's obsession. "My father didn't think anything would come of that," Phillips says. "To him, it wasn't a salable vocation."

By the time he was 15, Phillips had graduated from maps to real elections. It happened that his North Bronx congressional district was one of a handful in New York City represented by Republicans. After school and on weekends Phillips would mount a sound truck and, as he tells it, "warm up the crowds" before Rep. Paul A. Fino actually spoke.

Phillips's experience in the Bronx gave him an intuitive feel for the rhythms of urban politics and, in particular, the importance of ethnic voting. Phillips came to understand which groups could coexist or even collaborate, and which ones simply couldn't stand each other. His Bronx education would serve him well later. "It just struck me as an automatic thing that ethnic tensions were a normal part of politics," he says.

Phillips may have understood the various ethnic groups better than they did themselves because he really wasn't part of any of them. In a borough full of Italians, Irish, Jews, African Americans and Puerto Ricans, Phillips was a mixture of Scotch-Irish, English and Welsh. In a city where religious loyalties had political implications, the Phillips family -- Catholic on one side, Protestant on the other -- rarely went to church.

Phillips, after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1964, stayed close to his home district by going to work as Fino's administrative assistant. And he kept drawing political maps. In 1966, while most Republicans were still wondering if their party would ever recover from Barry Goldwater's crushing defeat by Lyndon Johnson two years before, Phillips saw the countours of his "emerging Republican majority" -- and his ideas caught the attention of influential party leaders.

So it was that when the 1966 midterm elections produced large Republican gains, Phillips became a minor prophet, the articulate young man with the charts and graphs and maps. The Nixon campaign decided it had to have him, and signed him up in the summer of 1968.

To liberal Republicans, then a force to be reckoned with in the party, Phillips's approach was not a strategy but an outrage. The liberals saw Phillips rationalizing white backlash against blacks.

Essentially, Phillips believed that both poor whites in the South and the urban ethnics in the Northern big cities were poised to flee the Democratic Party. In his knowing portrait, "Nixon Agonistes," Garry Wills quoted a young Phillips who spoke with a candor that eluded many other Republican strategists. "White Democrats will desert their party in droves the minute it becomes a black party," Phillips told Wills. "When white Southerners move, they move fast."

Thus was Phillips credited with developing the Republican Party's much-maligned (by liberals) but seemingly effective "Southern strategy."

"Who needs Manhattan when we can get the electoral votes of 11 Southern states?" Phillips told Wills. "Put those together with the Farm Belt and the Rocky Mountain states and we don't even need the big cities. We don't even want them."

To the liberal wing, Phillips was moving the party away from Abraham Lincoln -- and toward George Wallace. Though Phillips says he supported the Civil Rights Acts of the mid-1960s, he clearly saw the white South as the Republican Promised Land. "We'll get two-thirds to three-fourths of the Wallace vote in 1972," he told Wills, and as on so many other matters electoral, he was right -- indeed, perhaps a bit too cautious.

When "The Emerging Republican Majority" was published during Nixon's first year in the White House, it instantly became the electoral Baedeker of Republican politicians, and remained so for more than a decade. Phillips not only offered charts and maps, he linked Richard Nixon to the most sacred traditions of the Democratic Party.

For Phillips, the Nixon Electoral Revolution was akin not to earlier periods of conservative restoration, but to the populist revolts in the hinterlands. A new Republican majority was being created by average folks in the South and West, rebelling against big-city sophisticates, much as William Jennings Bryan's followers had done in 1896. Nixon had won the hearts of the political descendants of "people who voted for Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt."

The book sealed Phillips's reputation as a political sage, but doomed his career as administration insider. Phillips had taken a job as a special assistant to Attorney General John Mitchell, "but when the book came out, I was sort of unplugged," he says. "It was controversial, so they didn't want me to do anything." He left the Justice Department in March 1970. "I'm very glad that I did," he says; "1970 was a good year to get out."

Phillips, who set off on his lucrative career as a commentator and writer, never returned to government service. He acknowledges that he would have liked to return to serve in the second Nixon administration -- he was in good standing after Nixon's 1972 landslide confirmed his theories with a vengeance -- but was never offered a job he found attractive.

Bashing Buckley After the Watergate debacle, Phillips became increasingly unhappy with the Republican Party and the old conservative movement. His populism in full fury, he denounced the Old Right as "elitist." As the 1976 presidential elections approached, he washed his hands of Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller and, ever the contrarian, called for a ticket of Ronald Reagan and George Wallace.

"Many in the old Buckley-oriented 'Conservative Movement' regard ideological conservatism as a surviving high-church religion unhappily now practiced only by the elite handful... ." Phillips said then. Phillips said he prefered "Levittown, Georgia and South Boston to false pretenses of political gentility."

John B. Judis, who cites these remarks in his biography "William F. Buckley Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives," notes that Phillips became increasingly personal in his attacks on Buckley. Phillips denounced Buckley as "Squire Willy" who "primed his magazine with cast-off Hapsburg royalty." Always sensitive to the symbols of class, Phillips accused Buckley of "abandoning Middle America to load up his yacht with vintage wines and sail across the Atlantic."

Buckley, for his part, denounced Phillips as an "eccentric theorist writing orotund stuff" and dismissed the idea that conservatives should court Wallace to the point of giving up on "metaphysical human equality."

Phillips's populist break with Buckley echoed his fundamental policy difference with the Old Right. Most of the Right attacked Nixon for imposing wage and price controls in 1971; Phillips did not.

Phillips says his difference with most conservatives on that issue prefigured his later break with Reaganism. He is one conservative who sees nothing wrong with state intervention in the economy, and he cites as authority another great conservative who vigorously endorsed energetic government, Alexander Hamilton.

Despite Phillips's earlier enthusiasm, it didn't take long for Ronald Reagan, as president, to disappoint him. Phillips's 1982 book "Post-Conservative America" was a mournful view of an America haunted by "End of Empire frustration." Far from being a "revolutionary conservative" of the sort Phillips was seeking, Reagan had given the nation a "nostalgic restoration." Phillips toughened his critique of Reaganomics further in "Staying on Top," published in 1984, which made the case for an industrial policy built around frank "economic nationalism."

The new book brings his anger to a full boil -- in fact, close to the temperature it reached in the late 1960s. Democrats can take little satisfaction in Phillips's critique. He not only blasts the inequalities bred by the Reagan years; he also skewers the Democrats as "cowed, conformist and often supportive of the prevailing entrepreneurial free-market mood."

This doesn't surprise Phillips, student of historical trends. During the 1920s, in one of capitalism's earlier heydays, Democrats "competed with Republicans to cut upper bracket and corporate taxes."

"When wealth is in fashion," Phillips says, "national Democrats have gone along."

Phillips insists that his relentless opposition to elites has nothing to do with his psychological makeup and everything to do with his view of America. America, to Phillips, is its middle class. "Some of what angered me so much about the Great Society is these people who would sit in bureaucracies and play with neighborhoods, play with suburbs," he says. "It was clear that I was looking at that from a middle-class perspective."

Now, says Phillips, the middle class is threatened not by the bureaucracies but by the boardrooms. "It's important for people to realize how much {money} a small group of Americans made while most people were treading water and while the U.S. was losing so much internationally," he declares.

Phillips may be one of the few Republicans who compare Richard Nixon favorably with Ronald Reagan. In assailing Reagan for unleashing a "a new capitalist elite," Phillips makes sure his loyalties are clear by putting the following sentence in italics. "Richard Nixon did not unleash capitalism," he writes, "Ronald Reagan did."

The Ambivalent Prophet For all his fiery certainties, Phillips betrays a certain ambivalence. At times he seems to relish the role of angry prophet, but at other times he wants to be just an analyst concerned about "caste and class and ethnicity and regionalism -- the four horsemen of my political analysis."

So when Phillips is asked his view of Reagan, whom he indicts and virtually convicts in his book, his reply is stunningly tempered. "I think Ronald Reagan moved the country in directions it had to go in his first term," he says, "and left the country with a lot of problems in his second term."

The ambivalence turns up in other ways too. The father of twin 14-year-old boys who attend Sidwell Friends School, Phillips is careful that his wife, Martha, the Republican staff director of the House Budget Committee, doesn't get blamed for his political views. In politics, Phillips has always championed traditionalist constituencies, but his marriage is thoroughly modern, an equal partnership of the 1990s variety. That, perhaps, helps explain the solicitude he shows for working women in his new book. That sympathy was not much in evidence in Phillips's works of 20 years ago.

Another shift in his priorities over the years is evident in his fresh concern for the underclass and the black poor. Characteristically, Phillips argues that it is not he, but the country, that has changed. "In the 1960s, there was too much of the wrong kind of attention being paid to the underclass, which disrupted society and its politics," he says. "Now, too little attention is being paid to the underclass."

He still condemns "opportunistic liberal self-aggrandizing sociology," a phrase that comes out almost as a single word. What's changed, he says in the book, is that "Establishment liberalism wasn't really the Establishment anymore." Now that the conservatives are the Establishment, Phillips, the Groucho Marxist, isn't sure he wants to be in their club.

Almost plaintively, Phillips complains in his book that as the '80s came to a close, "few orators or demagogues had begun blaming the rich or self-serving elites for national problems. ... As the rich grew richer, all that could be said was that more and more Americans were beginning to notice."

Is a leader of the Emerging Democratic Majority listening?

Perhaps. Phillips's new book doesn't carry many blurbs -- just two, in fact. Both come from politicians who understand better than most the seething anxieties of the plain old middle middle class, the un-rich and unfashionable people who wouldn't be caught dead in Cambridge or on Rodeo Drive.

One endorsement comes from a man to whom Phillips has remained loyal all these years, Richard M. Nixon. The other comes from New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.

Does this curious twosome suggest that Phillips sees Nixon and Cuomo as bookends, the beginning and the end of the Republican era, with Cuomo cast as the leader of a new New Majority built on rage over economics rather than culture?

He won't go that far, but he comes close. "Richard Nixon is for Middle America," Phillips says, "and Mario Cuomo seems to be for Middle America."

That implies a certain ambivalence about the Republican Party -- an ambivalence that has made Phillips very popular among Democrats and very unpopular in his own party. Phillips does little to discourage this.

Out with it, then: Is he still a Republican?

Phillips's reply is uncharacteristically Delphic.

"I'm still a registered Republican."

What does that mean?

"I'm not sure what that means," he says.