WHATEVER ELSE Jimmy Carter's virtues may be, they do not include scheduling acceptance speeches to meet editorial page deadlines, at least not for the morning newspapers. This is a cruel and terrible practice of course, and one of the few public outrages that did not merit at least a line of remonstrance and a pledge to put it right in the Democratic platform. Maybe this will be remedied next time.

But will there be a next time? Or will there be a Democratic Party? Will it be in ruins -- a government-in-exile living in the hills somewhere? Awaiting a chance to reflect on the president's speech and the nominating convention's finale, it occurs to us that these are questions at least worth considering. The dire view of the Democrats' immediate destiny, or its lack of one, is based on the theory that Carter-Mondale, the ticket, has got loser written all over it.

The problem with this reading is that the president and the vice president did get renominated against rather heavy odds. It was a premise of those who opposed Mr. Carter on the "open convention" question, that in fact the poor Democratic voters who cast their lot with him in the caucuses and primaries had been, somehow, misled or at least confused. They had been made to reach a choice they didn't understand on the basis of information and expectations that didn't prove out.

But there is no explaining away the Carter-Mondale victory over Sen. Kennedy and the other competition that occurred along the route to New York. And you really have to give the president and the vice president that. There were some moves and gestures that were pretty cynical, raw. And there was a lot of pretending to political disinterest when campaigning was the purpose at hand. But there were also shrewdness of tactics and coolness of nerve and a bunch of right decisions toward the end that successfully wrapped up renomination.

Sen. Kennedy's loss, once a seeming impossibility, owed something -- much -- to his own mistakes and weaknesses of his political position. But even when you have said that, you must concede that it also was primarily the result of his being outcampaigned and outwitted, and that he was a victim of that ancient truism: winning is coming in first. It is true that the president and Mr. Mondale are low in the polls, and, to judge from all the comment printed, broadcast and spluttered privately, something other than America's sweethearts just now. But the fact is worth noting as the campaign at long last begins to get down to serious Republican v. Democratic business: Houdini and his running mate, merely by the act of being renominated, have given evidence that it is foolhardy to write them off completely on the basis of uniformly negative polls.