Rise of the Right, by William A. Rusher. New York: William Morrow & Co. 328 pp. $15.95.
The 1980 election was a watershed in American politics, and indeed it heralded a major collective realignment to the right. William A. Rusher's new book handily serves as prologue to future conservative/moderate battles in anticipation of a post-Reagan Republican Party. Politicos will scrutinize ''The Rise of the Right'' as much to plan future tactics as to understand past events.
Mr. Rusher is a reigning voice in the contemporary pantheon of American conservatives. He is a political godfather of the right. Publisher of National Review magazine since 1957, he has been at or near the center of the conservative political movement since World War II.
What otherwise might easily be passed over as an autobiographical account written by an informed insider with too narrow a historical focus takes on broader significance when it is realized that Vice-President George Bush, Sen. Robert J. Dole (R) of Kansas, Rep. Jack Kemp (R) of New York, ''new right'' computer mailing mogul Richard Viguerie (to mention just a few of the ''interested'' parties in a post-Reagan Republican Party) will gauge their own conservative action plan in light of Mr. Rusher's analysis.
His insider accounts - of the nomination of Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R) of Arizona for president in 1964 (a movement that Mr. Rusher initiated), the depth of the behind-the-scenes animosity conservatives held for Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller (R) of New York, the deeper than suspected designs Gov. Ronald W. Reagan had on the White House as early as 1967, the short and decidedly uneasy honeymoon of conservatives with President Richard M. Nixon's own 1968 political comeback - are not only informative for their own sake, but they point to the continuing struggle between the ''pragmatic,'' moderate wing of the party (represented by Senator Dole) and the ''ideological,'' conservative wing (represented by Representative Kemp).
To his credit, Mr. Rusher never lapses into gloating over the 1980 Republican victory. Such behavior just does not seem to fit his nature. Also to his credit, he gives no sense of being in the shadow cast by conservatism's star of the first magnitude, William F. Buckley Jr. Though a lesser star traveling in the same orbit as Mr. Buckley, Mr. Rusher knows he casts light in his own right.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Mr. Rusher writes like an attorney trained to see both sides of an issue and then make points in favor of his own, conservative case. On Mr. Reagan's loss of the Republican presidential nomination to Rep. Gerald R. Ford (R) of Michigan, in 1976 and Mr. Ford's choice of Senator Dole for the vice-presidency to succeed Mr. Rockefeller, he writes: ''Ford's narrow conception of the Republican party ... simply reaffirmed the GOP's suicidal unwillingness, under 'moderate' management, to appeal strongly to formerly Democratic social conservatives.''
After his own aborted attempt to form a third party in 1976, the American Independent Party (he withdrew his support when the racist Lester Maddox became the presidential nominee), he ends up praising the ''shrewd move'' on the part of the Democrats in nominating Gov. Jimmy Carter (D) of Georgia and siphoning off the antiliberal majority of social conservatives who would have been (and are now) Mr. Reagan's natural constituency.
Liberals ignored the power of ideas, i.e., conservative ones, not conforming to their own agenda, says Mr. Rusher. Redistributive statism, confusion about true Soviet intentions, and a moral permissiveness antithetical to the founding tenets of the nation are, for Mr. Rusher, the rejected fruits of liberalism.
Many college campuses are aligned with the media in having a leftist bent, he says. These two institutions represent the major liberal coalition with which conservatives will battle for the remainder of the century, Rusher predicts.
As the nation at large moved to the right, numerous college faculties - as if on Jonathan Swift's island of Laputa - floated left. Many '60s radicals have become '80s professors. They make certain university campuses leftist fever swamps, says Mr. Rusher, being the only places left in the Western world where Marxism, as an informing epistemology, is taken seriously.
He urges conservatives to rally to the moral vision championed by Russian Nobel laureate and exile Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn sets out the mental vineyard in which Mr. Rusher would have conservatives labor.
Nothing can take back the conservative movement; too much is in place for such an event to occur. For Mr. Rusher it is sweet indeed to write: ''Contemplating the generation of young conservatives that is coming along after my own, ... (he knows his own conservative goals are) in the hands of a movement capable of completing them.''