A voter might wonder what gay marriage, abortion and the Second Amendment have to do with the University of Michigan Board of Regents. The answer, of course, is very little.

But you wouldn’t know that from the nasty and absurd battle that’s going on leading up to the Republican Party’s state convention this weekend.

A minor seat has become the epicenter in the struggle for the heart of the state party, and how the UM regent’s nomination fight turns out will say a lot about the future of Republicans in Michigan.

Most of the attention in terms of the great GOP divide has centered on the tea party’s effort to replace Lt. Gov. Brian Calley with one of its own, the lightly qualified Wes Nakagiri. If Calley is booted from the ticket, it will be a disaster for Gov. Rick Snyder, who is already in an irrationally close race with Democrat Mark Schauer.

Adding a right-wing bomb thrower like Nakagiri to the ticket would drive away in droves the independent voters who ended the Democratic reign in Lansing by electing Snyder in 2010. If Republicans think there are enough hard-core conservatives in Michigan to carry the party to victory this fall, well, they should roll the dice.

Fortunately, apparent Calley delegates won enough convention seats in last week’s county gatherings to put the lieutenant governor on safe ground.

Now the tea party has turned much of its focus to the regent’s race. These seats are fairly insignificant to voters, but are highly coveted. An inordinate amount of resources and politicking goes into the nominating process for the three universities with elected boards — UM, Michigan State and Wayne State.

Two seats are up for grabs on the UM board. The tea party is pushing physician Rob Steele and former regent Dan Horning as the nominees, the same pair who ran last time and lost. So-called establishment Republicans favor Ron Weiser, the former state party chairman and GOP fundraising champion.

Like Calley, Weiser is a solid conservative. But unless a candidate stands in the street and hurls insults at gays or kneels in prayer outside an abortion clinic, he’s not conservative enough for a tea party movement that’s been co-opted by the religious right.

Dozens of emails have been sent out the past week challenging Weiser’s commitment to traditional marriage, the rights of gun owners and the unborn. They’ve also flailed him as a closet backer of the Common Core curriculum.

Weiser has been forced to respond with his own email blasts pledging his fealty to the litany of tea party litmus tests.

What about where the candidates stand on tuition hikes? Or on breaking the influence of labor unions over the current UM board? Or managing the university’s growth? Or preparing UM for a new era of virtual learning?

Those issues, which a new regent actually would be dealing with, don’t seem to matter. If they did, Weiser of course would be the runaway choice.

He’s an extremely successful developer who has used much of his fortune to support UM programs and projects. And did we mention he’s raised tens of millions for the Republican Party and orchestrated its 2010 sweep in Michigan?

If candidates like Weiser — or Calley, for that matter — no longer fit in the Michigan Republican Party, it’s a safe bet that the party will no longer fit in Michigan.

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