Herblock, with his genius for making sense out of nonsense and vividly expressing what seems obvious but isn't, gave us another present on Thanksgiving morning.

For his holiday cartoon, he showed us a portrait of the champions, moments after their great victory. As the door swings open to admit the TV reporter, mike in hand and camera crews in tow, the voice-over reads:

"And now to the victors' locker room -- which could be more interesting than the game."

There, beneath the new sign showing the historic victory margin ("Reagans 525, Mondales 13"), are the "R.R." champs. Still in uniform, they are celebrating their triumph by bashing each other with champagne bottles, helmets and fists.

The winning team has already split into warring factions. Squaring off in the locker room are the supply-siders versus the deficit-cutters, those who favor more taxes or no taxes, more nukes or arms control.

Which is exactly what is playing out piece by piece over the network newscasts and in the daily headlines from here to California.

Amid all the puffs of smoke, press speculation, background briefings, informed commentary, special pleading, leaks of frightening economic figures, threats of cuts in social and retirement programs and reassuring official but anonymous denials lies the struggle for the heart, mind and soul of the Reagan administration's second term.

To the casual reader, much of this seems like a replay of the "phony war" when opposing armies fired shells and issued dire threats against each other but remained safe and secure behind their fortifications, content to fight their battle by communiques and the occasional sound of guns.

So the current headlines give off flashes but little illumination as to the outcome:

President May Seek

To Cut Supports for

Farm Income, Prices


Regan Hints

At New Taxes


Federal Aide Outlines Plan

To Cut Retirement Program

But this is no phony war. It's a deadly serious one, with high stakes for the country and the nature of American society for years to come. At the heart of this battle is an ideological split both profound and ironic in its political implications.

While the Democrats go off to the U.S. Virgin Islands to ponder their future, without, of course, any sign of agreement either on the problem they face (if in fact they even recognize that they have a problem) or its solution, the Republicans demonstrate anew that they are the party of ideas -- crazy though some of them may sound.

Study the Heritage Foundation policy proposals being urged on the president and you get a picture of how dramatically differently the right wing conceives of the role and responsibility of modern government than either the mainstream GOP leaders who still set the tone in the White House and Congress or the Democratic opposition.

The real right wants Reagan to dispense with government intrusion in such basic public functions as overseeing the nation's transportation system and ensuring a public regulatory role. It would sell airports to the highest bidder at public auction, slap user tolls on highways and bridges, turn over to private hands the management of the space shuttle and in other ways aggressively attempt to "privatize" the public sector.

In this scheme of things, it's the profit motive, not the public interest, that counts. Along with this comes serious discussion about the advantages of running jails and other public institutions for a private profit. If this sounds like an anachronism from the 19th-century days of Dickens and almshouses, well, so it is. It also marks an extraordinary departure from the federal principles that Alexander Hamilton pronounced, thus making possible a nation and providing the intellectual rationale for the Republican Party.

But at least the modern-day Republicans, divided though they may be, are seriously arguing serious questions instead of passing their immediate post-election time sunning themselves in the Caribbean.

And while the Democrats search for a party chairman acceptable to all their disparate factions but also publicly bold and politically commanding, almost certainly impossible to achieve, conservative Republicans already are passionately involved in promoting national leaders for four years hence.

Just look at all that smoke arising at the mention of Jeane J. Kirkpatrick's name. Even so cool an intellectual as George Will has been speaking of her publicly as if she were some modern-day St. Joan awaiting the summons to save her country. And all because our U.N. ambassador is about to leave a job so distasteful and so great a burden for her that, as she tells Will, "such has been her reluctance to identify with the place, she has never learned the address" of her office.

Yet here is Poor Jeane, according to Will "the one indispensable person in government" who "unites thought and action, theory and practice, better than anyone in government in this generation" -- take that, Ronald Reagan -- being rejected by those cruel pragmatists in the White House who are blocking her rightful place to work alongside the president.

No, these struggles are not over. As Herblock correctly observes, the next phase promises to be more interesting than the election battle. And it has only begun.