STAUNTON, VA. -- As Virginia Republicans gathered here last week for their annual post-election convocation, party chairman Donald W. Huffman reminded them, "Togetherness is our theme."

Not this year. If anything, the three-day extravaganza of pure partisan politics, speechmaking and after-hours socializing laid bare the deep divisions in this party desperately seeking unity for the 1988 and 1989 statewide elections.

The fourth GOP "advance" -- never call this annual event a retreat -- was only hours old when the state's senior Republican senator was being flayed by his old comrades-in-arms for opposing the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork. The other U.S. senator, Paul S. Trible Jr., was still being chastised, mostly in private but sometimes openly, for leaving the GOP in the lurch with his recent decision to retire next year.

In addition, many party activists, those envelope-lickers and poll-watchers who once drove the Virginia Republican organization, were appalled by the well-orchestrated arrival at the meeting of 1,000 supporters of presidential candidate Marion G. (Pat) Robertson. Saturday in Staunton was Robertson's D-Day in Virginia, a flawlessly executed show of force that gave the former television evangelist a hands-down victory in a straw poll of presidential favorites.

To top it all off, the gathering closed Sunday with party leaders bickering over, and ultimately defeating, a proposal to make the Super Tuesday primary next March binding on delegates to the Republican National Convention in New Orleans.

This is not to say the Republicans had nothing to celebrate. Over the past year, thanks largely to Huffman and a Richmond-based cadre of operatives with an instinct for the jugular, the party is noticeably more aggressive and more visible when it comes to attacking state Democrats, notably Gov. Gerald L. Baliles.

More important, these newly vigorous Republicans scored a number of direct hits in the November elections, defeating the longest-serving Democrat in the state Senate and knocking off a number of other incumbent legislators. The GOP had good reason to savor those hard-fought victories, for only by winning those local elections can it even begin to even think about capturing more powerful state offices.

Nonetheless, many Republicans still seem most eager to pick at old wounds. Sen. John W. Warner, who gamely faced the party's executive committee on opening night, caught a raft of abuse for voting against the Bork nomination. At one point, Huffman had to gavel an angry audience member into silence.

"I was very distressed by your vote," said another party member, Sterling Rives Jr. of Petersburg. "I hated to see you standing up there with Senator Kennedy and Joe Biden," the two Democrats who lead the fight against Bork in the Senate.

"I have many, many people on my {local} committee that are real upset about the Bork vote," said Sandy Combs, who heads the party chapter in York County.

"You said a couple of times that you waited until the evidence was in to make your decision on Judge Bork," said Franklin E. Hall of Smithfield, the party's 4th District chairman. "The Senator Warner that I know and respect doesn't wait. He's the leader of the fight."

Warner deflected much of the criticism with humor and a lengthy explanation of why he voted against Bork, saying to one questioner who pointed out the "confessions and convulsions" of the evening, "Isn't that good for a party?"

Frank disagreements can be good for the party, but perhaps not the ones that fester for months or longer. Many Republicans are still seething about Trible's September announcement that he would not seek a second term, making former Democratic governor Charles S. Robb, who subsequently announced for that seat, the odds-on favorite to win it next year.

"If we lose the Senate seat, the bottom line is that Trible's going to take a lot of responsibility for that -- he can't escape it," said central committee member Don Moseley.

As for Trible's political future, Moseley said, "I don't think he has much control over it . . . . Paul's going to have to be extremely active in the party to come out unscathed."

Presidential candidate Robertson, who was born in Lexington about 30 miles from here, shocked GOP regulars with an organization he built just for the occasion and well outside the mainstream of the party. Several Republican leaders, including those who might be courting conservative fundamentalists in the 1989 governor's race, paid tribute to Robertson's skill by welcoming his 1,000 supporters to Staunton like long-lost brothers and sisters.

But for some moderates, the image of Robertson pulling the strings of the Virginia party is chilling. If Robertson could draw 1,000 people on a weekend afternoon for an essentially meaningless straw poll, they wonder, what he could do when the stakes are higher: say, in the summer convention to pick delegates for New Orleans?

"I don't think he'll have much cross-appeal, but this show of force may keep people from coming out for other candidates," said D. French Slaughter III, a Charlottesville Republican. "And that's very important in a game like this, where the winner is the one who gets the troops out."

Republicans from Virginia's urban centers were anxious for the Staunton meeting to endorse a binding primary as the best way to attract GOP voters during next year's presidential primary season, but that effort was quickly crushed by rural representatives and the party's old guard, who said the traditional round of caucuses and conventions was better.

"We need a Republican Party that represents everybody -- not just the man riding in the back of the limousine, but the man driving it," said binding-primary proponent Arthur Lovisi, chairman of Norfolk's GOP committee.

State Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R-Alexandria) echoed Lovisi, saying, "I'd hate to see this party tuck its tail between its legs and walk away" from a binding primary.

In the end, though, a majority rejected the idea, saying it was an ineffective way of building and creating interest in the party. To achieve that goal, Virginia Republicans will come every December to Staunton, where if the politics are not peaceful, the Shenandoah Valley almost always is.