2012 Republican National Convention, Aug. 26-27
The 2012 Republican National Convention welcome event at Tropicana Field

A caucus of councilmembers publicly dissented this week from the city’s bid to host the 2024 Republican National Convention.

On July 5, the city has its first chance to consider an agreement that would pave the way for the RNC, an invitation created by parties including Tennessee’s RNC host committee and Metro’s legal and finance departments. Councilmember Robert Swope will carry it at next week's Council meeting. Jonathan Hall, who represents a wide swath of northwest Davidson County, is a co-sponsor.

The event, at which delegates from each state decide the party’s presidential ticket, would presumably include former President Donald Trump in some central capacity and attract around 50,000 attendees to Nashville. The GOP hasn’t had a normal one in 20 years — two hurricanes, COVID, Trump boycotts — but seems to really like what it sees in Nashville, according to Tennessee Republican Party Chair Scott Golden.

But the Metro Council doesn’t like what the Republican Party sees in Nashville. On Wednesday, five councilmembers sent out two communiques outlining strong opposition to the GOP jamboree. Councilmember Freddie O’Connell, who is running against John Cooper for mayor, aired his criticisms with how the administration has handled the RNC contracting process in a press release circulated Wednesday afternoon. Cooper has been stuck in the middle of RNC coordination. While his administration helped originate Swope’s contract, communications director TJ Ducklo reiterates the statement issued by the mayor’s office last week. “Mayor Cooper has serious concerns about the unprecedented resources it would require to secure either party’s national convention in 2024,” the statement reads in part. “The Mayor has not approved any agreement with the RNC, and would not consider signing any agreement until after the Metro Council has had a chance to thoroughly scrutinize and conduct its own due diligence on what’s being proposed.” 

The second message from Metro Councilmembers — co-signed by CMs Angie Henderson, Bob Mendes, Dave Rosenberg and Joy Styles, dated June 29 — appealed to Golden about the misplaced priorities of the state’s Republicans. Metro Council elections are technically nonpartisan, leaving members to voluntarily identify with (or against) major parties.

“Historically Republican values like limited government and the time-honored tradition of local control are now routinely violated by the governor and the legislature,” the letter reads. Before the council decides to approve convention logistical support, mainly in the form of a local emergency response apparatus and outlays for certain costs, these four councilmembers ask “whether it is the intention of the Tennessee Republican Party to continue to be outwardly hostile in intent and actions” toward Nashville. The state has consistently enacted laws that override or preempt Metro legislation, a practice that has escalated dramatically with the growing Republican supermajority of the past decade.

Years of frustration for local legislators have crystallized now that the state wants something from Nashville. In a statement to the Scene, Henderson speaks plainly:

State government and local government are inextricably linked and stronger together. It would be nice to believe that if we were to take on the mutual burden of hosting this convention, Republican leadership would call off their ‘this-blue-city-is-a-crime-ridden-woke-failure’ hounds making a sport of deriding Nashville in the media and preempting local control on myriad matters simply to score points with the now cultish base of their party.

In a text, Mendes casts the letter to Golden as the bare minimum in a bleak political atmosphere. “I’m not expecting any change in their approach to governing, but it doesn’t hurt to ask,” says Mendes. He also notes that the RNC’s huge associated logistical burden will still fall on Metro regardless of Golden’s response to state preemption.

At-Large Councilmember Zulfat Suara happened to be at Scene headquarters on Friday afternoon for an unrelated Nashville Post story. “Now they want something,” Suara tells the Scene in the parking lot. “If I thought that we give them this and they’ll be nice to us, I might be more inclined. But look at redistricting. Look at what they did to us. So what if they have the power to go around us? Even if it’s 38 to 1, I will be that one. I can tell the people who elected me I didn’t vote for this.”

On Friday afternoon, Golden was traveling from Jackson, where he lives, to Memphis. He says he hasn’t read the letter, but plans to respond after the holiday weekend. According to Golden, a state host committee led by former governor Bill Haslam has courted the national bosses, and state lawmakers want to make Nashville a political supernova next year. Wisconsin looks like a distant second. 

“There’s no Broadway in Milwaukee,” Golden tells the Scene between I-40 dead zones. “The kind of feeling we get from the committee and broader Republican leadership is that everybody would love to come here. Everybody loves Nashville.”

Golden emphasizes the collaborative nature of the city’s RNC bid, which has been publicly supported by Golden’s Democratic Party counterpart, Hendrell Remus. In a joint statement last week, Remus and Golden said they “both fully embrace the opportunity for Nashville to host the 2024 Republican National Convention and are committed to an effort to recruit the Democrat [sic] National Convention in 2028.” The DNC passed on Nashville in 2024.

Nashville hosting the substantially larger DNC is somewhere between aspiration and pipe dream. An unnamed D.C. source “familiar with the Democratic convention process” outlined several reasons why the city is ill-suited to host the convention — an inauspicious sign for 2028 that discredits a central bargaining chip for local collaboration.

“There’s still a lot of lawyers looking at contracting and everything else,” says Golden about whether there’s a path toward a convention without Metro support. “The best thing we would like to obviously see the Metro Council say, ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity for the state and city.’”

If Metro kills this, many expect the state to strongarm Nashville into hosting or take the excuse to go nuclear with retaliatory legislation. Without the city’s cooperation, logistics become more complex and piecemeal, but maybe not impossible. Bridgestone and Music City Center operate under mayor-appointed government boards and could technically circumvent the council and sign their own agreements with the RNC. Ryman Hospitality, a publicly traded company, controls the city’s top venues. Secret Service outranks the MNPD.

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