In 1964, Ronald Reagan was complaining bitterly about the inflation rate, which was 1.7 percent. In 1980 he was still complaining, and inflation was 12.4 percent.

In the Goldwater-for-president days Reagan used to say America wasn't doing enough to stop the spread of international communism.At the time, the Johnson administration was preparing to commit half a million ground troops to Vietnam.

In the 1970s Reagan was saying the same thing, and the last representatives of the United States were fleeing the communist takeover of Vietnam in a desperate scramble.

Reagan always said there was too much federal spending and too many federal programs. In 1965, when he was just surfacing as a politician, the federal government spent $118.4 billion and ran a deficit of $1.6 billion.

By 1980, federal spending was up to $579.6 billion, the deficit was $59.5 billion, and the government had established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, the Community Services Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the affirmative action program, and the school busing program, among many others.

In other words, by the time Reagan became a serious presidential candidate in the mid-1970s, political reality was starting to catch up with his conservative rhetoric.

At precisely the same time, Reagan was carefully, firmly disengaging himself form the conservative movement, which adored him, and was preparing to run for president from within the Republican Party, whose political leaders and big contributors thought of him as a conservative ideologue and steered clear of him until he had clinched the Republican nomination.

To be a Republican first and a conservative second might have seemed a strange choice for Reagan to make, but it worked. It allowed him the luxury of being able to draw into his campaign all the strains of conservative thought then bubbling up all around the country, without having to commit himself body and soul to any of them. He could present himself as a conservative whose general passion outweighed his specific policy.

When Reagan won, it quickly became apparent that the conservative church was far bigger and far less unified than had been popularly thought.

Internal disagreements among conservatives -- once considered too obscure to merit attention, if noticed at all -- are now suddenly at the very center of the debate over the direction of national policy, and will continue, day in and day out, to dominate the news of the Reagan administration. To understand what's going on, you need an operator's manual.

As for Reagan, in the early years of his political career it had been enough for him to identify and articulate conservative sentiments.

Then he had to translate those sentiments into a successful political strategy. Now he has to translate them once again, into a government, and that may be the hardest part of all.

On Dec. 5, 1980, William F. Buckley's conservative magazine, National Review, celebrated its 25th birthday with an elegant black-tie dinner at the Plaza Hotel in New York.

It was quite an occasion, partly because of National Review, partly because of the election results. All sorts of conservatives were there, from all sorts of ideological camps: "New Right" leaders like Richard Viguerie, "Old Right" leaders like Buckley, "neoconservatives" like Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine, "supply-siders" like Robert Bartley, the editor of The Wall Street Journal.

There was also a sprinkling of nonideological celebrities -- Henry A. Kissinger, Walter Cronkite -- whose presence seemed to signify that conservatism was In.

Someone had worked out a clever seating plan giving roughly each sect among the guests its own table.Nonetheless, they eyed each other a little warily.

"A lot of conservatives here, aren't there?" someone asked Viguerie.

"A lot who aren't too conservative, too," Viguerie said.

Almost nobody was there from the corporate world or from the centrist wing of the Republican Party with which it is politically allied. But many of the people at the dinner had been complaining to reporters that these people, the "Nixon-Ford retreads," they called them, were taking over the nascent Reagan government.

A more conspicuous absence was Reagan's. At National Review's 20th anniversary dinner in 1975 he had been the main speaker, and even in 1980 he had allowed his name and picture to be used in a National Review advertisement.

As Buckley recalled it, Reagan had promised explicity to be there and to speak again. It had even been in the papers. But a few days before the dinner, Reagan had called Buckley to say his schedulers had unfortunately tried him up that night. Nobody made much effort to hide his disappointment. Buckley even made a tart comment or two about Reagan, though his general mood was buoyant.

The columnist (and National Review alumnus) George Will substituted for Reagan as the main speaker. "It took approximately 16 years to count the vote in the '64 election," he said," "and Goldwater won." With the election, he said, "American conservatism came of age."

If he was right, then who were all these people with their strange labels, what did they believe, and what claim did they have on the man who wasn't there?

Buckley was considered part of the Old Right -- old, because it began in the early 1950s and was devoted to tradition and culture, and suspicious of mass politics. But the Old Right helped spawn the New.

The New Right was probably born on the day in 1962 when Viguerie quit his job as an oil company clerk in Houston and went to work as a fundraiser for Young Americans for Freedom, an organization founded at Buckley's country estate.

Viguerie quickly began sending out mailings soliciting contributions, and the mailings worked. "I just said, 'My gosh, where's this thing been all my life," he says now.

Viguerie left YAF late in 1964 to start his own direct-mail company. He began by compiling a basis list: 12,500 names of people who gave money to the Goldwater presidential campaign, copied down by hand from records at the office of the clerk of the House of Representatives.

Today the list has nearly 5 million names on it, and it has made Viguerie a wealthy and politically influential man.

Direct mail had a powerful symbolic appeal for the sort of conservatives who were interested in mass politics, because it was a way of proving their doctrine that the people would rally to conservatism if only the liberal news media and the establishment parties could be bypassed and the case stated directly.

In 1974, it became appealing in a much more concrete way when Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act, which limited personal contributions to candidates for federal office to $1,000. That made direct mail, dependent on small contributions from large numbers of people, vastly more important in American politics.

In 1973 a friend of Viguerie, a former congressional aide, Paul Weyrich, founded a conservative think-tank called the Heritage Foundation. The next year, Weyrich started a political action committee (PAC), the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress.

Howard E. Phillips, after leaving the Nixon administration in 1973, started an organization called the Conservative Caucus and became close to Viguerie.

Weyrich, Viguerie and Phillips spent long hours during those years convincing popular, nonnetwork television evangelists, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Robison, to join the conservative cause, and as a result of those discussions Falwell started a PAC called Moral Majority.

In 1975 three young conservatives, Charles Black, Roger Stone and Terry Dolan (Black, Stone, and Dolan's brother, Tony, would later work for Reagan) started the biggest of all the New Right PACs, the National Conservative Political Action Committee.

All these organizations existed outside the traditional political system. All depended heavily on direct mail for their money. To the extent they had benefactors, they were self-employed businessmen, men like Reagan's friends Joseph Coors (of the Coors beer family) and Justin Dart (of Dart Industries). Their ties to corporate America were practically nil.

To work, their pitch to potential contributors had to hard-hitting, emotional, resentful; it had to play implicitly on the issue of class.

Viguerie and others began to find that issues like the Panama Canal treaties, banning abortions, opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, restoring prayer in the schools, "immorality," and "big labor" evoked the most response.

They presented contemporary American politics as being morally wrong in some fundamental way. The conservative writer Kevin Phillips gave these causes the name "social issues," and called Viguerie and his associates the New Right to distinguish them from conservatives interested in nonsocial, nonmoral matters.

By 1980, New Right PACs were the biggest contributors in the country to campaigns for federal office. NCPAC spent more than $7 million. By comparison, the biggest contributor among the traditional "special-interest groups," the National Association of Realtors, spent only $1.5 million.

Reagan met the New Right in the spring of 1976, in North Carolina.

His presidential campaign was not going well. Under the auspices of his campaign manager, John Sears, he had been toning down his old rhetoric, making clear his loyalty to the Republican Party, and losing important primaries -- in particular, New Hampshire and Florida -- to Gerald R. Ford.

By the middle of March there was talk that he was considering dropping out of the race, and that the North Carolina primary on March 23 would be his last chance.

In North Carolina Reagan had one important ally in Sen. Jesse A. Helms. Helms' political allies claim (and Reagan's aides deny it) that after a long battle with Sears they convinced Reagan to move his campaign sharply to the right and start harping on New Right issues, chiefly the Panama Canal treaties and Kissinger's foreign policy.

Reagan also began advertising heavily on television, most notably in a half-hour address that a Helms aide describes as "The Speech -- motherhood and defense." And he won the primary handily.

The Helms forces concluded that Reagan owed them one, and that they had succeeded into bringing him out of the clutches of Sears and into the ideological fold.

In July, they held a meeting with several Reagan aides in Atlanta to discuss strategy for the Republican National Convention in Kansas City. The Reagan people wanted Helms to help on a parliamentary fight designed to force Ford to name his vice presidential nominee in advance of his own nomination.

The Helms people said they wanted Reagan to push a platform plank (written by John East, now the other senator from North Carolina) on "morality in foreign policy." Reagan's people wanted to spend the convention on politics, Helms' people on ideology.

In the Reagan camp, politics won. Reagan didn't introduce the plank.

But he did maintain a relationship with the New Right. He wouldn't allow himself to become the focal point of a huge anticanal treaties campaign, but he did agree to sign the first really successful fund-raising letter for NCPAC, in the fall of 1976.

The letter bore Reagan's return address, and included an autographed photograph of Reagan and his wife, Nanacy. "I am terribly concerned," he said in it, "that the liberals and left-wing elements in our country are going to capture both the Congress and the White House this year."

In the fall of 1980 Helms, Viguerie, and NCPAC raised about $5.7 million for the Reagan campaign, and soon after the election they started saying he was letting down his most loyal friends. But this wasn't quite right.

For five years Reagan had refused to embrace them fully, and in 1980 they retaliated by straying from him. No important New Right leader was an early Reagan supporter in 1980, while men now in the Cabinet, such as Caspar W. Weinberger, William J. Casey, Richard S. Schweiker, and Drew Lewis were.

Helms organization sat out the early race. Viguerie threw his whole operation behind Philip Crane, and then John B. Connally, before joining the Reagan camp.

By the standard rules of political loyalty -- how early did you support the winner in his winning campaign? -- it was the weinbergers, not the Vigueries, who had chips to cash in after the election.

The other kinds of conservatism that were booming in the late '70s were concerned mainly with influencing th world of ideas, rather than the world of voters. There were three main strains:

First, traditional, mainstream Republican big-business conservatism became much more active in the 1970s. In 1972 more than 100 of America's largest corporations founded the Business Roundtable, designed to influence policymakers in Washingtion.

The American Enterprise Institute in Washington, a Republican think-tank funded largely by corporations, grew from a staff of 19 and a budget of $879,000 in 1970 to a staff of 135 and a budget of $10.4 million in 1980.

Established business publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Fortune began to fight against liberalism with renewed ardor. Led by Mobil Oil, corporations began taking out combative "opinion" advertisements in magazines and newspapers.

The big-business conservatives had three great causes: first, fewer federal regulations; second, cuts in the tax rates on business profits and capital gains, and third, cuts in federal spending that would lead to a balanced budget (though this last was tempered by the staunch support of individual industries for programs that helped them).

All three would be good for business, and therefore, their proponents said, good for all Americans. Big business was very cool to Reagan in 1976 and again in 1980; its leaders supported Connally and to a lesser extent George Bush, men with business experience and less populist rhetoric. But after Reagan was nominated, big business got on the bandwagon.

The second important strain in conservatism in the late 1970s came to be called neoconservatism. It had its roots in the reaction of once-liberal intellectuals against the New Left of the 1960s, which these intellectuals saw as fundamentally anti-American.

Norman Podhoretz wrote last year that by 1970, "The moment for mediation or negotiation had passed. The barricades were now up. . . ." In that spirit of fervor, Podhoretz and dozens of other intellectuals mounted a long war against the left, attacking affirmative action, the Soviet Union, Third World "liberation" movements, government regulatory programs (often the efforts, they say, of a "New Class" of bureaucrats and writers to increase its own power), and the Carter administration's human rights policy, among other things.

Most of the neoconservatives were Democrats; their chief soulmate in the ranks of politicians was Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York.

But by 1980, their agenda had come to focus on foreign policy issues (a bigger defense budget, stronger support of Israel, a harsher stance toward the Soviet Union, and a reduced emphasis on human rights), and they began to find themselves hopelessly out of tune with Jimmy Carter. So when it became clear that Reagan would be the Republican nominee, their names began to appear on his lists of advisers.

The third new strain in conservatism was called supply-side economics. It had its roots in the libertarian theories of the unfettered free market, but as a force in the politics of the 1970s it really began with a chart drawn up by a young economics professor, Arthur Laffer.

The chart, called the "Laffer Curve," claimed to show that if the government cut tax rates, productive activity would boom so much that the government's tax revenues would increase.

By focusing on cutting tax rates, Laffer said, the government would be focusing on increasing the supply of goods and services (hence the name supply side), which would in turn increase demand for them and bring about prosperity.

Two editorial writers for The Wall Street Journal, Jude Wanniski and Paul Craig Roberts (now an assistant secretary at the treasury), popularized Laffer's ideas, and Wanniski wrote a book, The Way The World Works, which expanded them into a sweeping vision of the nature of civilization.

Soon Wanniski began meeting frequently with politicians in Washington to spread the gospel. Their most eager pupils were Reps. Jack F. Kemp of New York and David A. Stockman of Michigan, now director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Roberts went to work on Capitol Hill, and in 1976 helped write the Kemp-Roth bill, which would cut personal income taxes by 30 percent over three years. Reagan repeatedly endorsed Kemp-Roth during the campaign.

All these conservative sects agreed in the fall of 1980 that Reagan should be present, but that was about all they agreed on. They fought like tomcats over who would get administration jobs, and that only presaged fights to come over policy.

The supply-siders don't get along with big business because of disagreements over priorities and of style. Stylistically, the supply-siders consider themselves radicals. Substantively, they want to cut taxes, more than they want to cut federal spending and regulations. They also want to cut government subsidies to business. Big business wants to cut spending first (except subsidies to business), business taxes next, and personal taxes last, if at all. Its leaders have frequently warned that Kemp-Roth would be irresponsible or inflationary.

The New Right is most comfortable with the supply-siders of all the other conservatives because of their shake-'em-up approach, but its agenda deals mostly with social and foreign-policy, rather than economic, issues.

It plans to push for legislation such as the "Human Life Amendment," the "Family Protection Act," a ban on federal funding on abortions, and a restoration of prayer in public schools. Most supply-side leaders are privately disdainful of the New Right.

The New Right is extremely hostile to big business, considering it nonideological, too eager to trade with communist regimes, and soft on the status quo. New Right leaders have long complained that corporation executives contribute money to important Democrats who are inimical to their interests, just to maintain access; late last year, they leaked to the news media information to that effect about Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan.

The neonconservatives are uncomfortable with the New Right, considering it anti-intellectual, but the two groups tend to agree on defense and foreign policy matters.

Neoconservatives tend to support federal programs designed to help the poor and the middle class, and so are wary of the hostility of big business and the supply-siders to those programs.Many supply-siders privately oppose increases in the defense budget, which is a cherished neoconservative cause.

Reagan has carefully avoided taking sides in any of these fights, and has instead pulled some of the people and ideas from each camp into his administration. He gave most of the top jobs in his administration to men personally loyal to him. Then he brought in people from the different worlds of conservatism.

Stockman is a supply-sider, and so are Norman Ture, an undersecretary of the treasury, and Paul Craig Roberts. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the ambassador to the United Nations, is a neoconservative, as is Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state for international organizations.

Malcolm Baldrige, the secretary of commerce, comes from the big-business Republican world, and so does Bill Brock, the special trade representative.

The only group without real representative in the executive branch is the New Right ("We're good at getting people elected, not taking people to lunch," Viguerie says mournfully), but the first nonofficial group to meet with Reagan in the Oval Office was a New Right anti-abortion group, and the howls of New Right politicians like Helms are obviously heard more acutely in the White House than ever before.

Reagan has also appointed members of one-issue conservative causes: James Watt, an anti-environmentalist activist, as secretary of the interior, and Raymond J. Donovan, a contributor to the National Right to Work Committee, as secretary of labor. These are jobs that every other Republican president since World War II has filled with the ideologically neutral or moderately liberal.

Quite naturally, all these different conservatives quickly began to disagree. Most visibly, the traditional Republicans and the supply-siders have been fighting bitterly over everything from which economic forecast to use to how much and how soon to cut taxes. One supply-sider at OMB joked to friends that he was thinking of hiring a food taster, as medieval kings surrounded by enemies used to do.

So far, Reagan is trying to fuse all the conservative doctrines into a single program. He is for Kemp-Roth-style tax cuts and spending cuts, a harshly anti-Soviet foreign policy without trade restrictions, cuts in welfare programs without rejecting the idea of welfare -- a bunch of ideas their proponents see as being at war with each other.

If it works, Reagan could create a permanent political program for a new majority party. If it doesn't, he'll be back where he started: a man who can articulate a collective sentiment, but not a way of governing.