There’s a likely reason Trump campaign manager/Internet troll Brad Parscale looks so desperate for San Antonio to chase the 2020 Republican convention.
Only one other city appears willing to touch it.
So far, only Charlotte, N.C., has publicly bid on the convention, where Donald Trump could gain the nomination to run for a second term. And like so much else to do with Trump, this isn’t normal.
At least eight cities vied to host the 2016 Republican convention, according to press reports. And why wouldn’t they? National political conventions bring in tens of millions of dollars and fill up thousands of hotel rooms. They also flash an international spotlight on your city for a few days.
But something’s different this go-round. Namely, there’s a divided and pissed off electorate, and the convention revolves around an unpopular firebrand of a candidate (a shit show of a candidate, some might even say). So, there’s a good chance that spotlight will land on something ugly and embarrassing.
“[The Republican National Committee] is a bit late here, and I think they’re having a hard time because of Trump,” said former Mayor Phil Hardberger, who attended a March 23 meeting where the RNC tried to interest city leaders in hosting. “Cities don’t want him. ... I don’t think this would be good for San Antonio either because of the drumbeat of racism that he’s promulgated.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg and city council are scheduled to deliberate on a potential bid at an executive session Thursday afternoon.
A large swath of majority-Hispanic San Antonio hasn’t taken kindly to Trump for repeatedly labeling brown immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers.” What’s more, the city risks a public-relations debacle by appearing to roll out a red carpet to someone who’s done so. That embarrassment would come as it strives to attract high-tech investment and reposition itself as a location friendly to young professionals.
Such intangibles can outweigh the potential financial benefit of rented hotel rooms and big-spending delegates, observers said. Especially when the long-term economic impact of a four-day convention may be negligible. A study of every Republican and Democratic convention between 1972 and 2004 by economists at Massachusetts’ College of the Holy Cross found no discernable impact on employment, personal income or per-capita personal income in host cities over time.
Running the numbers
Over the weekend, the Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles told the Charlotte Observer that RNC officials intimated other cities bid on the 2020 convention but wouldn’t identify her city’s competitors. However, the paper’s reporters called a raft of likely contenders, including Orlando, Atlanta and Phoenix, but couldn’t locate a single interested city.
The RNC didn’t respond to interview requests from the Current by press time.
“Cities may be looking at the calculations and deciding that the convention is more trouble than it’s worth,” Trinity University political science professor David Crockett said.
Indeed, both Dallas and Houston — perhaps for similar reasons — declined to bid on the convention before the RNC ever set its sights on the Alamo City, Hardberger said. The RNC’s original bid deadline was Feb. 28, leaving little time for any city approached this late in the game to mount a serious offer.
“I am taking direct part in this decision making [sic] process and feel San Antonio has a great chance,” Parscale said in an April 23 email to Nirenberg, a wink-wink way of promising to help sway the process in S.A.’s favor.
So far, the mayor has couched his reservations in financial terms. Foremost appears to be the RNC’s demand that the host city pony up as much as $70 million.
“There is a reason that San Antonio has not pursued a national political convention since 2000,” Nirenberg said in an emailed statement. “The local community has to commit tens of millions of dollars upfront, and prudent fiscal stewards have good reason to question whether that expense is worthwhile for the community.”
But let’s dig deeper. Nirenberg ran as a progressive independent, but like mayors before him — including his mentor Hardberger — he understands that he needs business and city-wide support to land a second term. That means he’s unlikely to wade into the political implications of a bid.
No holding back
Hardberger, on the other hand, ain’t holding back. His concerns go beyond the balance sheet to the image problems the 2020 convention might carry.
Beyond an insult to San Antonio’s Hispanic population, a bid would tarnish the city — proud of its economic and cultural ties to Mexico — in the eyes of our southern neighbor, Hardberger said. After all, Trump has engaged in public pissing matches with that country’s president, continued his fanatical push for a pinche border wall and threatened to tear up NAFTA, which was signed in San Antonio.
What’s more, there’s a considerable chance whatever city plays 2020 host is looking at an instant replay of the ’68 Democratic convention. Those bloody riots squarely landed a black eye on the city of Chicago and Mayor Richard Daley. The 2020 convention protests could get ugly fast, especially if Democrats fail in the midterms, observers point out.
No wonder Parscale’s resorted to the hard sell to move this lemon off the lot.
“I think it would improve [Parscale’s] prestige to get it here,” Hardberger said. “He’s certainly an operator. ... But San Antonio is doing well for itself. We don’t need distractions that can have long-term negative repercussions for our city and its image.”
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