The White House says Ronald S. Lauder, deputy assistant defense secretary for European and NATO policy, will be nominated as ambassador to Austria, succeeding Helene Von Damm, President Reagan's former secretary.

Lauder is a former chairman of Estee Lauder International, the cosmetics and perfume manufacturer, where he worked for 20 years before coming to the Pentagon in 1983.

According to one well-informed report circulating in Washington's diplomatic community, Lauder got his assignment to Vienna after his mother, Estee Lauder, asked First Lady Nancy Reagan if she could help win the appointment.

Von Damm's decision to resign followed her marriage to Peter Guertler, the Austrian owner and manager of Vienna's famed Hotel Sacher, home of the Sacher Tort, perhaps the world's most famous chocolate cake.

Von Damm had been spending some nights in the embassy residence, and some at the hotel, when she decided she should give up her official duties.

The White House announcement of Lauder's selection said he speaks French and German, is married and has two children. The choice requires Senate confirmation.

McGovern for President, Again . . . Former senator George McGovern (D-S.D.), the 1972 presidential nominee, is running for the presidency of St. John's College in Annapolis.

Dean George Doskow and a McGovern spokesman confirmed the candidacy; Doskow declined to name the others under consideration.

The vacancy was first advertised last summer, and Doskow said McGovern "heard of the job from a member of the faculty and approached us."

The voters McGovern will face this time are members of the college's search committee, who will meet March 3 to make their recommendation.

Toto, I Don't Think We're in Washington Anymore . . . Brent Bahler, an aide in the Washington office of Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), set off a furor in Kansas last week by remarking to reporters in Topeka that a drive through their state had revealed "a wasteland."

That was one of the milder remarks reported by John Marshall of the Salina Journal. He also quoted Bahler as saying, "We were in Garden City. Gawd. And then there was the drive from Garden City to Hays. There is nothing out there. Absolutely nothing. Oh, there were a few cows lying flat on the ground. I am convinced that if you are reincarnated that's where God sends you" if you've done wrong.

Mike Pettit, Dole's administrative assistant, said Bahler has submitted his resignation but the senator has not decided whether to accept it. Bahler has been responsible for handling Dole's relations with the Kansas media. Pettit wants to know how other reporters interpreted Bahler's remarks. According to Pettit, Bahler did not deny making them but said he was only joking.

Pettit described Bahler as "the kind of guy that jokes around a lot.