Like many a losing coach on the bus back home, President Reagan is rethinking the game plan that kept his Supreme Court nominee off the bench. The difference is that Reagan is not just rethinking his strategy: he's trying, after the fact, to change it, and to excite the crowd into going along with him.

If Judge Robert Bork failed of confirmation because his supporters tried unsuccessfully to paint him as a moderate, then Reagan will feature the man's bedrock conservatism. If Bork's opponents won by attacking his record on civil rights and privacy, then Reagan will try the old law-and-order end-around play. If the problem was that his side didn't fight hard enough, then Reagan will "fight right down to the final ballot on the Senate floor."

The problem, which the president himself had acknowledged earlier, is that the game is over. It seems to have occurred to him during his bus-ride musings that the American people might have gone along with Bork if the administration had thought to portray him as a traditional conservative. And so in his televised speech he offered a portrait of the nominee as a model of "judicial restraint."

The problem is that the people have drawn their own conclusions regarding Bork's judicial philosophy. And as the polls revealed, the more they saw of him the less they liked what they saw.

Reagan's second thoughts seem to have persuaded him that people who were worried about Bork's out-of-the-mainstream views on privacy and civil rights might have been snookered into supporting him if he had thought to attack the opposition as soft on crime. And so Reagan presented Bork as a jurist who wouldn't "confuse the criminals with the victims {or} invent new or fanciful constitutional rights for those criminals."

The problem is that Bork himself, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, denied any particular insight on criminal law. "I have written nothing about criminal law," he said. "It's just never been one of my specialties."

The president tried, in his Wednesday speech, to portray the opposition to his nominee as "political." And so it was. But so was the nomination. No one can doubt that it was Bork's hidebound fundamentalist conservatism, his literalist reading of the Constitution, that recommended him to the president in the first place. And no one should be surprised that senators who have a different view should choose to vote not to confirm him.

Reagan knows what any number of senators have acknowledged: that they are ready to confirm a mainstream conservative but not one whose reputation was built on opposition to principles that have become a part of the accepted wisdom: one-man-one-vote, endorsement of the civil rights acts, an end to the poll tax.

But instead of facing that truth, Reagan exposed the partisan nature of his continuing fight with his defiant threat to send up another nominee that the Senate would "object to as much as they did this one."

Indeed, his insistence on going through with this doomed nomination seems to be based on partisan considerations. He wants to punish those senators who dared to vote against him.

But the victims of this determination are more likely to be Bork and Reagan himself. The 54 senators who have announced their opposition to Bork include a goodly number of southern Democrats who understand that whatever punishment Reagan can dish out is minor compared with the punishment their black constituents can levy.

I don't mean to suggest that the opposition to Bork turns solely on the fear of black reaction. Surely there are among the 54 some members who "made careful and honest evaluations {as freshman Democrat Terry Sanford of North Carolina put it} and found Judge Bork lacking in the qualities they want on the Supreme Court."

But it is a fact that southern politics have changed, and the Reagan appeal to the Dixiecrat instinct is a loser. That is something the American people ought to be proud of.

Reagan, as the easy confirmation of Justice Scalia makes clear, can still win confirmation of a conservative nominee who doesn't come off as an extremist. But that isn't good enough for Reagan, whose judgment seems blinded by anger. Having lost the game, he is betting his dwindling prestige on the instant repla