In what appeared to be a breakdown in the political process, the Michigan Republican Party splintered into warring factions once again at its state convention Friday night while attempting to choose the first delegates to the Republican National Convention.
"I think it's really sad," said Linda Shinkle of Lambertville, a supporter of Vice President George Bush.
As they did at the party's county conventions in mid-January, the backers of the rival presidential campaigns of Bush, New York Rep. Jack Kemp and former television evangelist Pat Robertson staged rump caucuses, massive walkouts and loud protests over delegate selection rules that have already been the subject of both state and federal lawsuits.
Amid complex and confusing thrusts and parries by all sides, Bush apparently won the most delegates to the national convention Friday night. But Robertson's supporters vowed to challenge the outcome. They planned a state convention of their own today and said they would send a separate delegation loyal to Robertson to the national convention in New Orleans in August.
Bush's apparent victory came after a new coalition of Bush and Kemp supporters wrested influence over the delegate selection process away from an opposing right-wing alliance that was seeking to gain control of the state delegation for Robertson.
Panel Favorable to Bush
A party credentials committee that met late Friday night sanctioned the results favorable to Bush. But Robertson's supporters walked out of the credentials meeting, protesting the committee's support for a national delegation dominated by the vice president.
A total of 54 delegates were to be chosen in congressional district caucuses Friday night, while the remaining 23 are to be selected today. However, at the credentials committee meeting Friday night, the Bush-Kemp coalition agreed informally on how the entire delegation would be divided: 35 delegates for Bush, 29 to 31 for Kemp and the rest for Robertson.
But the appearance of a Bush victory was heatedly disputed by the Robertson camp, which has charged that the Bush-Kemp coalition has cheated them out of certain victory in Michigan.
The Bush-Kemp coalition was formed after many of Kemp's backers in the state defected from an earlier alliance with Robertson, prompting Robertson's supporters to charge Kemp with double-dealing. Kemp has tried to remain aloof from the fray, but it has become clear that he has sanctioned his supporters' switch from the Robertson camp to the Bush side.
Each Minority Takes Walk
Friday night, each side staged walkouts from district caucuses where they were in the minority, held rump caucuses and then sought to sort out the mess at the credentials committee meeting.
So tangled has been the Michigan process that the other three Republican candidates, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV and former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. did not actively compete for delegates.
The mess at the state convention was a direct result of the chaos at the county conventions earlier in the month. Because so many rump conventions were held at the county level, more than 2,700 delegates to the state convention were elected by some form of county convention to fill just 1,805 slots.
That led to credentials fights over almost every delegate at the state meeting.
Despite the confusion, it was apparent that Robertson suffered the biggest defeat in Michigan.