Out of the fear and loathing that permeate the Republican right, a secret strategy session of national conservative leaders here last week concluded that White House lethargy in pressing the Bork confirmation betrays an attempt to save the Supreme Court vacancy for none other than chief of staff Howard Baker.
The assembled conservatives lacked any proof. Such a plot would be totally out of character for the former Senate majority leader. Even if Judge Robert Bork is not confirmed and Baker should be named in the Reagan administration's closing months as a nominee sure to be confirmed, there almost surely is no conspiracy.
Yet, beyond right-wing paranoia, the Baker fear exposes two realities: that there is widespread discontent with the pace of the Bork confirmation campaign and that the right's confidence in the White House is at a point lower than any reached in the previous two staffs of the Reagan presidency.
The complaint is simple. Under Baker, the White House seeks to conciliate rather than confront the intensely partisan Democratic Congress. While the gentlemanly pace of the Bork campaign is the main grievance, the list grows:
When White House domestic policy chief Gary Bauer tried to hire veteran Senate Republican staffer William Gribbin as his deputy, he was vetoed by the senior staff. As in Kafka, there was no accuser, no crime. Who objected and why were secrets.
The White House did not interfere when Jo Ann Gasper, a leading anti-abortion activist, was fired as an assistant secretary at Health and Human Services. (Now she is about to be hired by Secretary William J. Bennett at the Department of Education.)
Appointment to the AIDS advisory commission of Dr. Frank Lilly, a gay activist, has illuminated the White House switchboard with protests. The compensating selection of conservative Cardinal John O'Connor of New York was made only after serious opposition from senior presidential aides.
But it is the Bork fight, or lack of it, that most concerns the right. Despite Justice Department experience managing judicial confirmations, it has been cut out of this climactic struggle.
The avowed reason is that Attorney General Edwin Meese III, as the target of two special prosecutors, is a liability. But bad blood runs between Justice and the White House. Meese's problems aside, presidential aides say Assistant Attorney General John R. Bolton's hard-nosed style might break too much china in the Senate shop.
That attitude sums up what's wrong in the opinion of Justice officials who say nothing is being done at the White House. Avoidance of head-on collisions with Congress, a tactic of chief presidential lobbyist Will Ball, means that confrontational ventures by administration conservatives Bennett and Bauer are deplored.
Bennett's call for Sen. Joseph Biden to recuse himself from presiding over Judiciary Committee hearings on grounds of prejudice found no public resonance in the White House. Nor did Bauer's chiding of Democratic senators for their failure to distance themselves from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's assault on Bork (though Baker himself thought Bauer was on the right track).
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole, who first harbored misgivings about Bork's ''confirmability,'' is fully on board and has expressed private concern about White House mismanagement. That concern helped build the fear among conservatives about what Howard Baker and his staff are up to.
The answer surely is that there is no plot to subvert the wishes of the president. But Ronald Reagan is a president who relies on his staffers for strategy and tactics in putting his wishes into effect, and the Baker way has planted ugly suspicions on the right.