THE ELECTION RESULTS keep trickling in, in various forms, and they are as as ambiguous as before. One vote in the Senate cancelled the most popular interpretation of the Nov. 2 outcome -- which is that the country was telling Ronald Reagan he had gone too far to the right and was spending too much on defense. Another vote, taken the same morning on the House side, seemed to ratify it.
The contest over the chairmanship of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee might seem far removed from cosmic considerations. The press secretary of the winner, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said there was much more to it "outside than inside."
The defeat of Bob Packwood of Oregon, the incumbent, may have been simply a matter of Senate personalities. But it assumed a larger meaning because Packwood was the moderate who chose to warn Reagan in the public prints that he was turning the Republican Party into an assemblage of "white males over 40."
For this effrontery, the White House vowed revenge, and when Paul Laxalt of Nevada, the president's best buddy in the Senate, became chairman of the Republican National Committee, the first thing he turned a hand to was getting rid of Packwood.
Lugar denied any White House complicity in the plot, and minimized its ideological content. More conservative than Packwood, he is not of the caveman strain. Packwood's stewardship was not an issue; it was a question of discipline and loyalty to the Gipper.
Packwood had raised and dispersed record funds. John Danforth of Missouri, one of four moderate incumbents who made it back by the skin of their teeth, with the help of Packwood's cash, said fervently, as he nominated Packwood, "I would not be here today were it not for his efforts."
The quarrel was resolved Thursday morning, in the Old Supreme Court Chamber, a baroque room with swirling dark red draperies and gold ornamentation that looks like the setting for a murky opera. Packwood lost by four votes. When he emerged, his square jaw was working and he was red-eyed with rage and disappointment.
He knew he was going to lose, he said through set teeth. Four of his supporters had jumped ship. They had called to warn him. He would not name them or divulge the reasons they had given him for their defection.
His friend and colleague, Sen. Mark Hatfield or Oregon, said afterwards that indeed it had not been a dispute between left and right or even a test of Reagan's post-election clout. It was more a matter of seatmates and gym pals, and things like that.
But the perception, he sighed, would be different. The shaken moderates, wanting to send Reagan the message they got from the election, had been put down. Nonconformity will be punished.
From the other side of the Capitol, from the House Appropriations Committee, came contrary news to be relayed to the traveling chieftain.
The House Appropriations Committee was voting on Reagan's beloved MX. Rep. Joseph Addabbo (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment to stop it in its current Dense Pack mode. The committee room was densely packed with members, aides and reporters, its tables strewn with books, papers and empty coffee cups.
Addabbo said of the latest manifestation of the world's largest, deadliest weapon, "No one knows what it is . There has been no clear defense of what it is."
Even its defenders were defensive about its cost, which is conservatively estimated at $26 billion. Rep. Jack Edwards (R-Ala.), said he wants "to cry every time I think of spending this type of money for these types of systems" -- but deems it necessary to stop the Soviets from "dragging their feet at the bargaining table."
The vote was 26-26. The tie was created by a member of the Democratic leadership, handsome Bill Alexander of Arkansas, who after weeks of public indecision, voted for MX.
He came out in the hall to explain to the waiting press and lobbyists the reason for his action.
It was an act of heroism, as he told it. He had resisted what Richard Nixon used to call "the easy, popular course." He knows from the election results that voting against defense bills is popular.
Had he been making "a political decision" -- there was an echo of Teddy Kennedy's dramatic pullout speech -- he would have voted differently,"because the American people would like for Congress to tell them that they don't need the MX." But he had been forced into statesmanship by his conviction that "we need a new missile," although he hates the Dense-Pack basing mode and he may -- may, mind you -- vote against MX when it gets to the floor.
Taken together, the Senate and the House vote probably let Reagan say what he said before about the previous election results -- "a wash."