AN ANALYSIS of the Michigan Republican primary might begin with something the news departments of both ABC and CBS chose to ignore Tuesday night: the vote totals. Four years ago in Michigan, running against Gerald Ford (the home-state candidate who also happened to be the incumbent president), Ronald Reagan won only 34 percent of the primary vote.
Last Tuesday, the same Ronald Reagan, the favorite for the 1980 Republican nomination, won only 32 percent. George Bush, a native of Massachusetts and a resident of Texas, routed Mr. Reagan in Michigan this time. But ABC and CBS were far more interested in telling us what was perhaps going to happen at the Detroit convention in July than what had actually happened, that very afternoon, in the precincts of Detroit. They denied Mr. Bush the positive network coverage that would have helped him raise the funds necessary for an all-out effort in the winner-take-all California primary on June 3.
Let us add here a word about delegate counts. When a news agency has a higher delegate count for a candidate than the candidate's own people have, that tells you that the news agency is including "leaners" in its count. But "leaners" have a habit of leaning one way on Monday and another way on Thursday. Leaners are not reliable. Delegates who are reliable and who should be counted are those who are bound by state law or have bound themselves by their public statements.
Using the first method, ABC and CBS put Reagan over the top on Tuesday night, giving him more than the 998 delegates needed for nomination. Using the second method, the more cautious Associated Press count now gives Mr. Reagan 888 delegates, less than needed. It's the difference between a shoo-in and a horse race. Again, Mr. Bush came out on the short end.
But none of this is much consolation for George Bush."Hail to the victors valiant," the first line of the University of Michigan's rousing fight song, may qualify as the closing line of his presidential campaign. He managed more comebacks in this political season than the relentlessly unretiring Muhammad Ali. After defeat in New Hampshire, Mr. Bush came back to win Massachusetts. After losses in Florida and Illinois, he won Connecticut. Before Michigan, he won in Pennsylvania.
The most recent news reports suggest that harsh reality has imposed itself upon the Bush campaign. Deprived of the positive network coverage his Michigan upset victory deserved, Bush partisans were forced to forfeit the June 3 California primary to Mr. Reagan.
We recall -- and we know that Mr. Bush recalls -- the disdain expressed by some syndicated sages on the day Mr. Bush announced his candidacy. They said the Bush campaign had already "peaked." They were wrong, and so were an awful lot of us. George Bush lasted longer than, and outlasted, supposedly stronger opponents. He demonstrated tenacity and civility in abundance. He inspired enthusiasm and loyalty in his followers. Whatever Mr. Bush decides, he has fought the good fight.