The Republican Party is trailing in the competition for women's allegiance. The need to do better is evident to everyone with an interest in, or responsibility for, our electoral success.

As with any serious ailment, dismissal of dubious diagnoses makes a useful start.

In my judgment, none of the conventional explanations, either our own or our opponents', is fully adequate. Our problem does not stem, as Republicans might fondly hope, from our failure to "tell our story." The recent record on women appointments is far better than generally supposed, but skeptical women will not be converted by individual success stories from the president's limited pool of appointive opportunities.

The gap is not a function of the "women's issues," as they are currently defined. Some -- not all--of the "women's issues" enjoy majority support in the country, but almost invariably women disagree about them in the same proportion as men do.

Neither are we hurt fatally by our deserved reputation as the party that battles government spending. When today's liberals say "compassion," they mean government jobs and printing press money. Men and women alike are fed up with that approach to governing. As a matter of fact, one could argue that the most damaging perceptual shortfall Republicans now face is the 20 percent gap between men and women as to whether inflation has been reduced.

The "war and peace" explanation also falls short of total persuasiveness. Again, the percentage of women agreeing with Republicans on the need to repair our national defenses is far higher than the percentage whose overall support we hold.

Each of these theories undoubtedly has some validity. But the heart of our political problem, and certainly our most available and practical political option, lies along more general lines. The Republican Party must affirm, formally and forcefully, that we believe totally in the appropriateness and the desirability of women's seeking political and economic power in our society. We must commit ourselves to the nomination and election of women at every level, in unprecedented numbers, until decision-making is as equally shared between the sexes as our party can make it.

The most politically underrepresented citizen in the country today is the mainstream American woman, and the Republican Party is largely to blame. We have neglected our duty to recruit, nominate and elect those women within our ranks or near to our viewpoint. Consequently, we have left the nation's headlines and microphones to a small subset of women whose agenda, when even casually inspected, has less to do with uplifting all women than with resuscitating moribund liberalism. The hypocrisy of this element, if it needed further demonstration, was manifest in the betrayal of Millicent Fenwick in 1982. 2 As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, I am encouraging the candidacies of women in every state where no Republican incumbent now serves. I am prepared to commit the NRSC to the maximum legal funding and support for any Republican woman who is nominated next year, regardless how Democratic the state or how apparently formidable the Democratic candidate. I am prepared to consider direct assistance to women candidates even prior to their nomination, a sharp departure from our usual policy.

The party should commit itself formally, in its platform and perhaps its rules, to the goal of nominating women for at least half of all significant offices between now and our 1988 National Convention. One step toward that end might be to award bonus delegates to the 1988 convention to states meeting or approaching that goal. Such a rule would establish no quota--the party can never dictate its nominees, anyway-- but it would offer concrete rewards to party organizations that encourage and put forward women candidates in large numbers.

A principal motivation in these actions is, I freely confess, political. Both common sense and survey research convince me that a Republican woman makes a terrifically appealing choice for presentation to today's voters. As a woman, she is virtually immune to the inaccurate but prevalent party caricature of heartlessness, military recklessness and, of course, anti-feminism. As a Republican, she can reassure voters that she is not running for office to disarm the country or debase the currency.

A concerted drive by the Republican Party to stamp itself as the party of the woman elected official would serve our nation as well as it served our own political interests. It would focus attention on the genuine women's issue, namely, the need for women to share power equally with men in society--not power for the sake of any one viewpoint, but power for its own sake, and for justice's sake. If successful, this campaign would furnish a new generation of voices and role models for mainstream American women. Elect enough Nancy Kassebaums and Paula Hawkinses and people will stop paying attention to Jane and Bella.

The full political participation of women is a moral imperative for our society, and an intelligent political goal for the Republican Party. If we begin to hold up our end of society's obligation to women, we will be rewarded both at the polls and in wiser public decisions.

The writer, a Republican senator from Indiana, is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. sense and survey research convince me that a Republican woman makes a terrifically appealing choice for presentation to today's voters. As a woman, she is virtually immune to the inaccurate but prevalent party caricature of heartlessness, military recklessness and, of course, anti-feminism. As a Republican, she can reassure voters that she is not running for office to disarm the country or debase the currency.

A concerted drive by the Republican Party to stamp itself as the party of the woman elected official would serve our nation as well as it served our own political interests. It would focus attention on the genuine women's issue, namely, the need for women to share power equally with men in society--not power for the sake of any one viewpoint, but power for its own sake, and for justice's sake. If successful, this campaign would furnish a new generation of voices and role models for mainstream American women. Elect enough Nancy Kassebaums and Paula Hawkinses and people will stop paying attention to Jane and Bella.

The full political participation of women is a moral imperative for our society, and an intelligent political goal for the Republican Party. If we begin to hold up our end of society's obligation to women, we will be rewarded both at the polls and in wiser public decisions.