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Convention poses tough choices for GOP

The Nevada Republican Party is preparing a bid to bring the 2016 Republican National Convention to Las Vegas, and some party figures are concerned that the – how do I put this? – unconventional or non-traditional lifestyle of Nevada’s largest city could steer national GOP officials to a safer venue.

Granted, a city with museums that celebrate organized crime (think Italo-American voters) and nuclear weapons (think voters who advocate military restraint) has image problems.

They happen to be image problems that generate commerce, so community leaders cannot see any reason why political leaders would worry about it. But commercial gain and political sensitivity are two different things.

And boosterish community leaders who characterize Las Vegas as an easy sell that deserves the convention based on local chauvinism are doing the city no favors, since it could lead to a failure to address the issues that concern national Republican officials.

In 1984, I covered a Democratic National Convention whose advocates had REAL worries about image.

In San Francisco there were gay bathhouses, exotic religions (the People’s Temple of mass Guyana suicide fame began there), marijuana advocates, a highly publicized new disease that was being characterized by religious loons as moral punishment for the city’s lifestyle (though New York City was actually the capital of AIDS cases).

Democratic Party leaders worried that their candidates would be identified with the town’s alleged excesses.

Right wing columnist Pat Buchanan tried to help this impression along by writing that delegates to the Democratic convention would be endangered by “homosexuals who belong to a community that is a common carrier of dangerous, communicable and sometimes fatal diseases.” San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein was suspected of vetoing a city domestic partnership law in order to limit unfavorable publicity at a time when the city was trying to lure the convention.

In fact, although there were unfortunate incidents (reporter Randy Shilts learned that NBC sought assurances that caterers would not use gay workers to serve food to its people), few of the 2,000 reporters covering the convention paid much attention to the city’s unusual culture.

But that was in an era when political reporters were sophisticated and fairly responsible. Today national political reporters tend to be less politically savvy and more inclined to bite at the colorful and irrelevant. There’s no telling what they would do with Las Vegas.

Of far greater concern as Nevada Republicans try to win the convention, though, is the unusual culture within their own party.

The Republican Party in the United States has developed its own image problems over the last quarter century, excluding conservative leaders like Jack Kemp from party leadership. “We’re the new liberals of the Republican Party,” Barry Goldwater told Robert Dole in 1996. “Can you believe it?”

In the place of the Doles, Kemps, and Goldwaters came the Gingriches, Quayles, and Ws, to say nothing of those Romneys of infinitely shifting principles. And Nevada’s Republican Party is now, for a second biennium, in the control of a faction that is far to the right of THEM.

The state party is so split that Republican regulars had to leave the party last year and create a party-in-exile to give Mitt Romney and down-ballot Republicans some support and the Washoe Republican Party seceded from the Nevada Republican Party, filing with the Federal Election Commission as a separate legal entity.

How extreme does a state party have to be to lose the support of its normal fanatics? And would the national GOP want to thrust its most attention-getting event of all into the middle of that mess?

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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