NOON WEDNESDAY, suddenly, it was over; and everyone knew it. The coup d'etat had failed. Ronald Reagan would survive.

One could see defeat etched in the faces of the network anchors and correspondents. One could sense it in the frenetic whining of politicians that, "What did the president know?" was actually the "wrong question." But, it was all over. For once, Mary McGrory got it right. Ollie North had left the committee "a smoking ruin;" and the quarry, the president of the United States, had escaped. As Adm. John Poindexter testified, under oath, Old Dutch had been telling us the truth all along.

Wednesday and Thursday, the Left sought maniacally to re-shift the focus back to the sale of arms to Iran, but that souffle will not rise a second time.

In November, when it was first revealed that Ronald Reagan had authorized weapons sales to the mullahs, the anger, the anguish, the outrage -- even among the president's own -- were genuine, legitimate. Today, they are synthetic, feigned, and transparently so.

After eight months, the arms sale to Iran has become to the current claque of liberals what Nixon's decision to "contain" Watergate was for the generation of 1974: a convenient club to beat to death a president the Left could not defeat at the ballot box.

This time, fellas, it didn't work; this time the American people, with the help of a passionate and articulate Marine lieutenant colonel, saw through the falsity and fraudulence of the Show Trial. This time, the country wised up to the fact that all this liberal breast-beating and outrage, faked for a compliant news media, was an act. America openly rooted for Ollie North, and against the Sanhedrin of hypocrites trying to tear him down.

In the aftermath of the failed coup, Ronald Reagan should go on the offensive:

He should block any criminal prosecution of Poindexter or North. Any indictment of either officer would be an offense against justice that ought not to be permitted by the president, whom they served honorably, faithfully and well. And the president should so state, publicly. Then North should be sent by the Marine Corps on a speaking tour for the contras in every swing congressional district in the United States, not excluding the Ft. Worth district of the speaker of the House.

If special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh doesn't get the message and moves to indict Poindexter or North, Reagan should step in with a presidential pardon. This is a political, not a legal, struggle.

President Reagan should demand, not request, $500 million for the contras, not $100 million; and he should settle for nothing less than what the contras require to continue this fight. No more no-wins wars, Mr. President. Did not you tell us, sir, that this was the central lesson of Vietnam?

And should the Democratic Party in Congress, with no policy of its own for dealing with the beachhead of the Warsaw Pact on the mainland of North America, choose to pursue its dog-in-the-manger tactics and abandon the contras in the field, the president should find the supplies, ship them openly, and challenge the Congress to impeach him. As North demonstrated, they haven't got the cojones.

It is time for the United States to begin doing openly what Casey and Poindexter and North had to do secretly. Salus Populi Suprema Lex.

The time to launch the campaign for contra aid is now, when the iron is hot; and the way to begin that campaign is with a rally in the East Room, where the Medal of Freedom should be awarded, posthumously, to that splendid American, the Honorable William J. Casey.

In a single week, Ollie not only put God and country and the Constitution, and all the splendid values he represents, back on the side of the president and the Nicaraguan Resistance; he held up a mirror to the ugly face of the Inquisition.

How, when North admitted to setting up secret bank accounts, to deceiving Congress, to shredding documents, can the American people consider him a national hero, one bewildered network reporter asked his equally bewildered colleagues?

The answer is simple. What the American people saw was genuine drama: A patriotic son of the republic who, confronted with a grave moral dilemma -- whether to betray his comrades and cause, or to deceive members of Congress -- chose the lesser of two evils, the path of honor. It was magnificent. The American people watched daily the anguish and pain of a genuinely moral man and contrasted that with the stuffy self-righteousness of the pharisees putting him through his ordeal.

The spluttering and uncomprehending rage of Sam Donaldson last Sunday morning exposed not only how far the national media is out of touch with America, but how far apart we, as a people, have become -- and not simply on the issue of Central America. Americans of Left and Right no longer share the same religion, the same values, the same codes of morality; we only inhabit the same piece of land.

North speaks the language of duty, honor, country; his is a faith deeply rooted in Christian tradition. He did not, and would not, proclaim some amoral "right to lie;" he was forced into a moral dilemma by an immoral act of Congress.

With the Boland Amendment, the Congress of the United States passed a death sentence upon the embattled friends of North; and then it instructed men like North to carry it out. Instead, the colonel built a new and ingenious lifeline to keep the contras alive; and when Congress came to close that down as well, North protected it, at the risk of his own career. He deceived Congress, to save his friends on a field of battle.

That is what the American people, deeply moved, were applauding. That is why the American people laughed out loud, when North volunteered that even as Justice Department lawyers were seizing documents in one room, he was shredding documents in the next.

"They were doing their job, and I was doing mine," Ollie said; and every American knew in his heart that North had done a brave and beautiful thing. For all this moralizing about, "The end does not justify the means," the truth is the colonel's ends were noble and his means -- secrecy and shredding documents -- licit or not, were not inherently immoral.

There is another reason America took North to her heart. That is because they believe that the Left, the Sam Donaldsons of the world, lack the moral standing to sit in judgment on anyone -- especially North.

Men who have proclaimed it a great advance for human freedom, when 4,000 unborn children are daily shredded in the abortuaries of the United States, are to be laughed at when they profess moral horror over the shredding of documents.

Men who have cheered every twisted perversion of the Constitution by a renegade Supreme Court, driven by ideologues like Brennan and Marshall and Douglas, are frauds when they proclaim themselves profoundly concerned with Ronald Reagan's transgressions against the constitutional rights of Congress.

Men, who have for three years been calumniating the contras -- as Somocistas, facists, rapists and thugs -- are hypocrites when they stand before television cameras and fault the president of the United States for "failing to make his case to the American people."

Many truths have emerged from these hearings, few of them to the liking of the Left. First among these is that if Nicaragua is ever again free, the capital city of Managua will boast an Avenida Oliver North, leading directly into the Plaza William J. Casey. And if Nicaragua is permanently appended to the Warsaw Pact, moral and political responsibility will rest squarely with the dominant wing of the Democratic Party which has passively collaborated with Moscow and Managua in bringing that about.

Thanks to three men -- Poindexter, Casey and North -- the democratic resistance is alive. Thanks to these three men, there was an army of 15,000 peasants prepared to fight, when a courageous fifth of the Democrats in Congress awoke to their party's folly, openly and bravely crossed the aisle, scrapped the Boland Amendment and voted $100 million in military assistance.

And, damn it, Mr. President, the "diversion" was a "neat idea."

The Boland Amendment did not forbid Iranian contributions to the contras; it did not forbid private aid to the contras; it did not apply to the NSC staff. It was a civil statute with no criminal penalties. And there is no hard evidence either man violated that amendment.

Poindexter and North should never have been fired; they should never have been let go in the West Wing panic of late November. They should have been defended then, as they should be defended now. It is time we retrieved our wounded.

And if the letter of the Boland Amendment was not violated, its "spirit," merited contempt. For the Boland Amendment was rooted in malice; it was a calculated, cold-blooded congressional act to abandon to their communist enemies thousands of Nicaraguan patriots who had taken up arms, at the urging of the United States, to expel Moscow's Quislings from Central America.

The Boland Amendment was rooted in the same malevolence that motivated an earlier Congress to disarm and desert to its communist enemies a South Vietnamese Army that had fought for seven years alongside our own.

With the testimony of North, the contra cause, the anti-communist cause, has been given one of its great victories of the decade. But continued success requires of the White House more of the mindset of Ollie North. The White House must get off the defensive and go on the attack; the president must not only make the case for the contras, but against the Congress.

It is not Poindexter and North who belong in a court of law -- but Congress that belongs in the court of public opinion explaining why, for three years, it has actively sought a contra defeat -- and its natural concomitant, a communist victory in Central America.

In 1985 and 1986, while Fidel Castro moved 3,000 combat advisers into Nicaragua, while Gorbachev pumped in a billion dollars in military hardware, the Congress did its damnedest to discredit, defund and defeat the army of peasants fighting on the side of freedom and the United States. The Boland Amendment was nothing less than the American corollary to the Brezhnev Doctrine.

If you shoot at a king, be sure you kill him. Don't miss. That was among the first things taught us by Richard M. Nixon when I hooked up with him more than two decades ago. For the last six months, the left wing of the Democratic Party, and its auxiliaries in the press, have sought to use the Iran-contra affair to cripple and kill the presidency of Ronald Reagan as they used Watergate to kill the presidency of Richard Nixon. They failed, Mr. President; they are retreating in disarray; and now is the time to let the jackal pack know what it means to strike a king.

Patrick Buchanan resigned earlier this year as White House director of communications. He is writing a book about his Catholic boyhood in the 1950s.