Washington — The Democratic strategy for staging a comeback when President Reagan returns to this city is best described as no strategy at all. "We're in absolute confusion," says one key Democrat who works closely with top Democratic officials in government and with party chieftains.
Checks with other influential Democrats, here and around the United States, disclose the same disarray. The only plan -- or, more appropriately, hope -- among party leaders is that the President's economic program will fail to take hold and the public will turn to the Democrats once again.
"Our plan is to be around to pick up the pieces," one Democratic policy shaper says.
But Democrats agree that the counterweight to that view is that, should the Reagan programs work well enough to maintain a modicum of public support, the Democrats will have little to offer the voters next year and in 1984.
Many Democrats profess to see the beginnings of public unhappiness over the Reagan economic initiatives. They claim the stock market is reflecting widespread lack of confidence in the Reagan programs.
Some Democrats also claim that soon millions of Americans will feel the pinch of the Reagan budget cuts.
The composite Democratic view of Mr. Reagan's vulnerability comes down to these points:
* The President himself is still too popular to be attacked. "It's counterproductive," one Democratic leader said. "You hit Reagan head on and you hurt yourself. People aren't ready to have their president assailed."
* Reagan's policies, however, are fair game for criticism. In fact, as Democrats see it, the President may have painted himself into a corner with his commitment to vastly increased defense spending, which may make it impossible to keep the budget deficit from rising unmanageably.
"Unless the president backs down on his plans for his massive outlay for defense," a key Democrat says, "he's going to have a deficit in 1982 of about $ 60 billion, and that big deficit is bound to send inflation back into double-digit figures. And if he does back down, he'll be in trouble with Republican hawks."
* Reagan's plans for pushing forward on social issues -- limiting abortions and school busing, for example, or allowing tax credits for private and parochial schools and reintroducing prayer into the classroom -- are expected to lead inevitably into political trouble.
"He'll no longer be able to pull together his coalition on those proposals," another Democrat says. "He's even going to have difficulty getting many of the Republicans" to back him.
Meanwhile, Democrats continue to express frustrations over their inability to cope with this popular President.
"We have no coherent plan for bringing him down," a veteran Democratic politician says. "Perhaps we will have one by next month." A little later in the interview he ventured, "We'll see a plan by the end of the year."
So for now, Democrats are going to sit on the sidelines, waiting for cracks in the Reagan administration to show.