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The meaning of Dallas

This handsome, spacious convention hall is running over with Republican confidence. Not since the days of Dwight D. Eisenhower have the delegates been talking with such certainty of victory.

The polls and problems with the Mondale-Ferraro ticket support this optimism. And top Reagan political advisers, like Ed Rollins and Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., are saying the news is so good that it's getting a bit frightening.

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They are anxious lest the ''troops,'' as they call them, let up on their campaigning efforts and thus open up an opportunity for the opposition to make a comeback.

Be that as it may, this is more a celebration than a nomination. Selection of Ronald Reagan and George Bush has been nothing more than a formalization. If there is any dissent here, it doesn't apply to the ticket.

This has been far from an empty exercise. What this convention will be remembered for could be summarized this way:

* It is successfully, even spectacularly, launching the campaign of a President who will be nearly 80 years old at the end of a second term. His vitality is not being seriously challenged. History may well say that this nomination was symbolic of the breakthrough into more respect for and utilization of older people in the United States.

* This convention is also launching the 1988 presidential election, with George Bush, Howard Baker Jr., Jack Kemp, Pierre du Pont IV, and the two Doles (Elizabeth and Robert), among others, all trying to line up early support for the post-Reagan opportunity.

Two polls show that Vice-President Bush is the most favored among the delegates. This is as would be expected, since Mr. Bush is the best known among the hopefuls. Also, as GOP national chairman several years ago, Bush got out around the country and met a lot of the political activists who make up a substantial portion of this assemblage.

Congressman Kemp comes next among the delegates. He's younger and far less experienced in public life than Bush. But he's a youthful, exuberant fellow who exudes a lot of poltical charm. Mr. Reagan was the Gipper in make-believe. But Jack Kemp is a real-life quarterback hero. Maybe, some delegates are speculating , this is what the party and the country want next.

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* Perhaps the most significant development at this convention is the intense spotlight that is being given to women. Doubtlessly inspired to a large extent by the Democrats' choice for the vice-presidency, the Republicans have sought to make the point that women also have a large role - and a future - in their party.

In fact, Geraldine Ferraro's engulfment in questions about her financial conduct served to make GOP women stars look even better by comparison - at least in the eyes of Republicans assembled here.

UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, still a card-carrying Democrat, lashed out at the liberals who, she said, ''always blamed America first'' whenever the United States moved into a confrontation with the Soviets. It was a tough speech. Some delegates said they could ''see a Maggie Thatcher'' in her - someone who just might change parties and become a strong contender for the presidential nomination in 1988.

US Treasurer Katherine Ortega and Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole were also placed in the prime TV time zone, where they could, and did, make it clear that the Republicans were not going to leave the Democrats' women challenge unanswered.

President Reagan says the first woman president will be a Republican. Don't rule out the possibility that the Republicans will select a Jeane Kirkpatrick or an Elizabeth Dole or a Nancy Kassebaum for the presidential - not the vice-presidential - slot in 1988. That would be one certain way of ending the gender gap overnight.

* Finally, there is a voice out of this convention that history may well note: It is this call for less government involvement in the lives of individual Americans, which came from almost every speaker. The difference in views seems to be narrowing to hardly any difference at all.

Walter Mondale, that old-time liberal, was talking the same way at the Democratic convention - even borrowing the balance-the-budget and tax-increase thesis of pre-Reagan conservative ideologues.

But what comes through clearly is this: The American people are becoming conservative. Or, at least, the politicians of both parties think so. So the race will be to see which side can out-conservative the other. In such a contest the Republicans have the clear edge.

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