What do Republicans really want out of life? The question is with me this week as I eschew all liquid refreshment and meditate on the proceedings now resounding off the glass and steel of Renaissance Detroit.

What does the paradigmatic Republican dream of as he sucks on his last maraschino cherry after his last cocktail in the last hour of a quiet evening by the hearth? What stirs his imagination, his id, his ego and his superego? Why, every four year years, does he sweat through a dozen good shirts in a boiling metropolis like Detroit when he could as easily lather up in more familiar surroundings, say, the back nine of his local country club? There is mystery here.

Why the Democrats practice their particular politique is apparent and understandable. The youthful idealists in their ranks do it to abuse the pieties of their neighbors and in general to distress the nearby Chamber of Commerce. Older Democrats do it to maintain a high rate of employment: namely, their own -- and at the public trough no less. Actually, few of them ever stray far from the trough and naturally it is important to them that the trough remain as capacious as possible. All these years of Democratic politique have made personal financial security very precarious, and a place at the trough is especially reassuring in these times of high unemployment and ruinous inflation. Moreover, when life grows burdensome, a seat at the public trough can provide many amusing opportunities for harassing the hell out of one's neighbors.

Of all these normal human impulses the Republican remains innocent. As political creatures go, he is as fantastic as the platypus and no more agile. Consider his current condition.

His presidential nominee is about to run against a man widely preceived to be the worst president in this century. Four more years of this untutorable, incurable, stupefied and stupefying chief executive and those of us who have only read about the Great Depression and World War II will quite possibly have an opportunity to experience both simultaneously and at first hand. This being the case, are the Republicans ready and raring to make the incomparable Jimmy run and explode on his own historic record? The answer is in doubt.

For before they begin campaigning, Lincoln's heirs must first creep down the halls of Reagan headquarters slitting each other's throat. They must bicker over who gets the poshest desk and the thickest carpet. Who gets to see the boss first in the morning, and who tucks him in at night. Who will be sought after by the press for historic presidential bulls, and who will have charge of the credit cards. In settling all these lofty matters, much blood will be shed and much time frittered away. Not only will Jimmy be given respite, but he will be given time to confect whoppers even more colossal than last time around. Jimmy will come roaring off the starting blocks, and as he shouts his threats and his august recommendations, the Republican courtiers will still be furiously maneuvering to establish the White House office chart of their dreams.

The irony is that if the Reagan people would just settle down their sights on the Carter administration rather than on each other, they would probably all end up victorious and satisfied. Their campaign director, William Casey, is one of the most knowledgeable, prudent and politically astute men in the republic. If the Republicans cannot defer in his leadership, I do not see how they can call themselves political creatures. Rather, let them call themselves Iranians.

Along with the Republican's mysterious yearning to slaughter themselves when they should be slaugthering the opposition is their mysterious yearning to campaign on issues that only their great aunts might understand. During every convention, they drag out curious stuff that leaves ordinary voters agape or holding their noses.

Last week, we saw this curious phenomenon when the Hon. Jesse Helms strode before the Republican platform committee's subcommittee on defense and foreign policy and commenced to glow and to hiss on the merits of tearing up the Panama Canal treaty and our agreements with Red China. He even muttered darkly about the fabulous Trilateral Commission. Some observers expected him to demand an inquiry into the sinking of the Maine, the funding of the late Leon Czolgosz and plots too sinister to mention even in this great cosmopolitan paper. Fortunately for Reagan, Rep. Jack Kemp was presiding; and with grace and even wit, he shut the honorable senator off.

Kemp, of course, is one of those remarkable men who occasionally slips into public life, even under Republican auspices. He is comfortable with working Amercians and regularly carries over 90 percent of his working-class district. aHe is a retired professional football player, a quarterback; yet he has spent the last few years cavorting with highbrow intellectuals like Irving Kristol and Midge Decter. He reads books and actually contributes to them. He has the respect of such traditionally Democratic groups as Jews and Eastern Europeans. Most astonishingly, he has ideas in his head.

Kemp is unique. Without pretension and braggadocio, he reads and learns. He knows the world is a complicated place and he treats it gingerly but with hope. Possibly this comes from being knocked down so many times by linebackers whom one cannot soft-soap. Whatever the case, Jack is a Republican I like.