To start a national movement within the party for a Vegas convention, I called Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary under George W. Bush. Though he loves going to Vegas, he thought it was a bad choice for the Republican convention. An article about a couple of delegates at a strip club, bolstered by quotes from a disgusted social-conservative leader, could cause a rift between the two wings of the party just when they’re working hard to pretend they all agree on a candidate and a platform. In the parlance of press secretaries, the technical term for that kind of scandal, he said, is an “unwelcome intrusion.” This is also a technical term at strip clubs for a way a delegate could get in trouble.
After some brainstorming, Fleischer and I decided to tell the media that the convention is in Columbus, while actually having it in Vegas. “It would be a huge twofer. We could have a convention in Vegas and upset the press,” Fleischer said. “Nobody likes the media, so it would lock the election up for the Republicans.” President Santorum seems like a small price to pay for dinner at Bartolotta.
The first member of the site-selection committee I reached out to was Steve Scheffler. It turns out he’s a board member of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition and the Iowa Christian Alliance. I was going to have to lean heavily on the “freedom” part of his résumé. But Scheffler seemed very reasonable about his evaluation of Vegas as a potential site, noting that there’s sin everywhere, even in Iowa, which I know is accurate from The Music Man. He even said he’d been to Vegas once. When I asked him what the occasion was, he said, “I’d rather not comment on that.” Scheffler totally gets the ethos of Vegas.
But I really had to win over former Representative Enid Mickelsen, chair of the committee. And she, of course, is a longtime Mormon Sunday-school teacher from Salt Lake City. These are the people the GOP picks to arrange its biggest party, which explains why Coolio never rapped, “Ain’t no party like a GOP party ’cause a GOP party don’t stop.” But it turns out that Mickelsen goes to Vegas fairly often on the way to her beach house in California and has taken separate trips to see Pavarotti and The Phantom of the Opera. And she agreed that Tampa, the site of the 2012 GOP Convention, had plenty of sin. “I was driving to Costco, and I had to go right through an area with a lot of strip clubs,” she said. I informed her that the area of Tampa she drove through with all the strip clubs is called Tampa.