NOW THAT IT'S the Republicans' turn to address the budget in Congress and the president has expressed himself emphatically on the subject, let's look at where the Republican presidential candidates stand. Their views cover a lot of ground.

On one side is Jack Kemp. Nine-figure budget deficits seem to bother him not at all. He's consistent: the man who proposed the cut in tax rates that led to the deficits of the 1980s also voted against Gramm-Rudman and the constitutional amendment purporting to balance the budget, and he doesn't pretend that cuts in domestic programs can come close to eliminating the deficit -- nor, as the longtime representative of blue-collar Buffalo, has he been much interested in domestic cuts. But while Mr. Kemp has been confounding some Cassandras, he has, Pollyanna-style, refused to recognize the deficits' negative effects. Or he has said that any problems can be solved by the gold standard -- a truly dreadful idea. At first it sounded like an alibi for the failure of the tax cut to achieve all that was promised. But now -- worse -- it looks as if Mr. Kemp really means it.

On the other side of the argument is Bob Dole. The fervor with which he denounces deficits on the stump brings back memories of Republicans of yore, and has not entirely been matched by action on Capitol Hill. Yet over the 1980s Mr. Dole as Finance Committee chairman and Republican leader has done as much as any Republican to close the deficit, and at some political risk, to put over a tax hike in 1982 and line up Senate Republicans to cut Social Security COLAs until they were undercut by the administration in 1985. Minority Leader Dole has not done much this session to close the deficit. But a President Dole would probably do more than any of his Republican rivals.

What would others do? George Bush called Kemp-Roth "voodoo economics" in 1980, but now he echoes the president's line: "there's not a quicker way to kill economic prosperity than to raise taxes," he says, and calls for such snake-oil solutions as the balanced-budget amendment and the line-item veto. Pete du Pont calls for big cuts in spending on farm programs and welfare, but his Social Security plan would cut income tax revenues; he seems little concerned about running big deficits for the next few years. Pat Robertson says deficits show "public demand for instant gratification"; his solutions range from small potatoes (zeroing out Amtrak and the Small Business Administration) to mirror tricks (the balanced-budget amendment, following the specious guidance of the Grace Commission). Alexander Haig wants to reduce "horrendous" deficits, but would not break the "social compact" on issues such as Social Security.

Republicans have an emperor's clothes problem on the budget: they must ooh and ah over the president's garment even though everyone can see it has not a stitch of political support and that someone is likely to catch cold soon. But the next emperor will have to make some changes in his wardrobe. You don't expect a candidate to come up with a detailed budget or to say how he'd make every hard choice. But so far none of the Republicans except Bob Dole has given anyone much reason to believe he'd do better on the budget than Mr. Reagan ha