COLUMBIA, S.C. -- When Republican presidential hopeful Pat Robertson addressed a large and loudly enthusiastic rally here last week, he stood in front of an enormous banner that captured the essence of his campaign message. In giant white letters on a royal blue background, the banner read "Restore the Greatness of America Through Moral Strength."

Ever since the long-time evangelist began his drive for the White House two years ago, he has made moral concerns the core of his political quest.

The United States is headed for "moral death," Robertson says. As symptoms, he cites abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, drug use and the breakdown

One of a series of articles summarizing the basic policies and approaches of the major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates competing in the March 8 primaries in Maryland and Virginia.

of the family. He says the next president must reverse the nation's "tragic moral decline" and help Americans find a "common ethical standard that will bring us back to traditional conceptions of morality."

This is not to say that the former charismatic Christian preacher and broadcaster sounds a one-note message on the stump. In his speeches and writings, he addresses a broad range of issues and policy concerns.

The Robertson foreign policy is built around an aggressive hostility toward the Soviets and all their allies. "I want to work toward the day when atheistic communism is removed from every nation on earth," he says, "including the Soviet Union itself." He also pledges to get tough on terrorists. At the same time, he favors a big cut -- "between $20 billion and $40 billion" -- in the Pentagon budget, making him the only Republican contender to call for a reduction in military outlays.

Domestically, Robertson agrees with the other Republican hopefuls that the federal deficit must be eliminated. He promises to submit a balanced budget to Congress within 13 months of his inauguration without raising taxes. His proposed cut in defense spending would help meet that goal, but he has declined to say what other programs he would cut to reach his goal of a balanced budget by fiscal 1991.

Robertson has made education a key part of his campaign message. He promises to eliminate the federal Department of Education, which he calls "a wasteful agency in Washington that is dominated by a powerful teacher's union with leftist tendencies." And he says he will make every American, adult or child, a skillful reader. "The way to do that," he says, "is to bring back a sound elementary educational structure that is based on the phonics method."

Robertson is the only remaining presidential candidate who proposes phasing out the federal Social Security System. He says his plan would let workers establish private saving funds instead of paying Social Security taxes, but would still pay all the Social Security payments due current and future pensioners. He does not say how he would fund the payments once workers stopped paying the Social Security tax.

All that, though, takes a back seat to Robertson's fundamental political promise: "I want to restore the greatness of America through moral strength."

That pledge reflects the candidate's strong belief that the nation's internal ethical problems pose a greater threat to our future than any military, budgetary or public policy concern. "Ladies and gentlemen, what we are facing is not a governmental problem," he says. "It is a moral problem."

Further, Robertson says, it is not the government's business to deal with individual moral decisions. "The same liberal elites that gave us the problem . . . tell us that this is a problem for government," he complains. This is wrong, he insists.

Why, then, did Robertson resign his position as a nationally prominent minister and moral instructor to seek a job in government? He has not answered that question clearly on the campaign, but alludes to it in a section of standard stump speech.

"The government can't make men and women be faithful and honest toward their spouses," he says. "The government can't make parents raise their children as God-fearing, honest, hard-working people. But what we can do is eliminate some of the laws that get in the way."

The laws that "get in the way," he says, include the Supreme Court ruling giving women the choice to have an abortion, and some tax law provisions that provide benefits for working women who pay for child care. Robertson says he would push for a tax credit for mothers who stay home with their children rather than going to work; he says he does not know how much this would cost the treasury.

The candidate also says that public schools must be changed so that they inculcate "traditional values." "We cannot have education that is value free," he says. "I want to see us go back to teaching moral values in our schools." He calls for a return to the time when governmental bodies wrote prayers and teachers led the students in reciting these prayers aloud in the public schools. He criticizes the 1962 Supreme Court decision that found such practices unconstitutional.

Discussing foreign affairs, Robertson describes a world that is "basically split between two great forces, one slave and one free" -- that is, the Soviet Union and the United States. He says that coexistence with the Soviets cannot continue forever. Accordingly, he pledges as president to "decolonize the Soviet Empire." He says this could be done without sending U.S. troops overseas, but instead by "providing arms and supplies to freedom fighters battling the Soviet puppet governments in Angola, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Cuba." He also says that China must eventually be "won back from communism."

Robertson has been a harsh critic of President Reagan's handling of terrorism. He says he opposed the Iran-contra arms deals. He has called the Reagan administration "a helpless giant in the face of petty dictators and terrorists," citing the bombing of U.S. troops in Lebanon and the American hostages who are still captive. The hostages "could have been freed" if Reagan had acted promptly to get them back.

Robertson has told audiences that he would bring back the American hostages if he became president. He does not say how he would do so, but he advocates greatly increased intelligence efforts to keep track of terrorists around the world. "And I would say to these foreign terrorists," he declares, "that if you lay one finger on an American citizen, there will be no place in the world for you to hide."

Robertson says the federal budget deficit is "a moral issue because it involves one generation stealing the patrimony of its children." He says he will cut federal spending by $100 billion in his first year in office, and eliminate the deficit entirely the year after that. "And we will do that without raising taxes on the American people."

Robertson does not give specifics for his budget plan. He has said it would be "political suicide to tell the interest groups out there that you're going to cut their favorite program." He has said it might "risk national security" if he described the cuts he wants to make in Pentagon spending. And once, when asked to list specific items he would cut to balance the budget, he responded by looking around the room and saying, "Does anyone else have a question?"