NEW ORLEANS, JUNE 27 -- The Republican National Committee is contemplating a rules change that would enable its state parties, rather than predominantly Democratic state legislatures, to set the timing and ground rules of GOP presidential caucuses and primaries beginning in 1992.

At present, the RNC rules say that state law establishes how and when delegates to its national convention will be selected. Even though more than 70 percent of all state legislatures are controlled by Democrats, the Republicans until recently had been content with the arrangement.

In the past year, however, as more state legislatures have tinkered with the dates and formats of their presidential selection process, many state Republican leaders have become frustrated.

"The problem is that the state legislatures have gotten flaky," said RNC general counsel Roger Allan Moore. "Virgina has switched back and forth four times trying to decide if it wants to be a part of Super Tuesday {next March 8, when 20 states will hold primaries or caucuses}. It's insanity for us to allow ourselves to be dragged along while the Democrats go through their schizophrenia."

Moore submitted a proposal at the RNC meeting here that would give state parties the power to set their presidential nominating rules, but that also would establish a national party commission with "circumscribed power" to approve or disapprove the state plans.

The proposal, discussed for several hours at an RNC Rules Committee meeting, ran into two initial lines of objections.

One concern was whether the Republicans, in opting out of the Democratic "turmoil," would simply replace it with their own. Mississippi RNC member Haley Barbour called himself a "skeptic" and said he could foresee no end of manipulation by GOP presidential candidates and their operatives, who would go from state to state to try to shape the timing and formats of the primaries and caucuses to their advantage. "Me and a couple of other guys and a half-a-case of good whiskey could have a field day," Barbour joked.

Others wondered if a national party review panel, even with limited power, would intrude on state party rights and perhaps become the tool of an incumbent administration to make primary challenges more difficult.

RNC Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. said he didn't yet know whether he would support the plan, though he acknowledged that "Republican state parties are getting increasingly frustrated by the current arrangement."

The proposal will be considered at the RNC meeting next January and may come before the national convention in 1988 for final approval.

Moore said the change, if adopted, could increase the number of states where the Democrats hold a primary on one date and Republicans hold caucuses on a different date. But in the main, he argued, it would be designed to give Republican state legislators leverage to restrain Democratic colleagues.

The legal ground for the proposed change is a 5-to-4 Supreme Court ruling last December in a case from Connecticut in which the high court held for the first time that state parties prevail over state law in setting the terms of party primaries.