RNC 2020: The risks aren't worth it for Charlotte

Delegates react at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016.
Delegates react at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016. AP file photo

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in Charlotte doesn’t, which is why we should pass on hosting Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention in 2020.

Charlotte appears to be one of three finalists, along with Las Vegas, for hosting the event, the Observer’s Steve Harrison reported on Friday. Las Vegas is used to gambling, of course, but for Charlotte this is too hefty a wager and too big a roll of the dice.

Liberal Democrats who reflexively reject the idea of hosting a Republican convention are blinded by ideology. National conventions put the nation’s eyes on the host city and attract tens of millions of dollars in direct spending. Charlotte knows that from its successful run with the Democratic National Convention in 2012. So Charlotte should eagerly pursue a Republican convention nominating Mitt Romney or Nikki Haley or John Kasich or really anyone – other than Trump.

It’s a cost-benefits analysis, made difficult by the fact that neither the costs nor the benefits are perfectly known. But we know enough:

We know that the financial costs will include substantial taxpayer dollars in overtime for police and other public employees. There will be a small cost to residents’ convenience, and a sizable one for shareholders of companies such as Duke Energy, which is expected to contribute millions.

But our real hesitancy stems from the benefits. What are they exactly?

There is the direct spending by visitors on hotel rooms, restaurants and elsewhere. Those are real, even if usually overstated and also offset some by taxpayer investment, and make the idea tempting.

But the real motive for hosting a national political convention is as much about the indirect benefits – the branding, the reputation-building, the laying of groundwork for future corporate and convention recruitment. Hosting a national convention shows the world that you have big-city chops and should be on the radar for expansions and events.

But Charlotte achieved that status some time ago, with the DNC in 2012 if not before. Hosting the RNC in 2020 wouldn’t give us much of a boost on that front, but it would bring considerable reputational risk. Love Trump or hate him, if he is the nominee the 2020 convention is going to be a divisive, polarizing, controversial affair, and Charlotte will be associated with all of it.

North Carolina’s reputation has already taken a severe dent from HB2 and other Republican legislative shenanigans. And many people assume wrongly that because Charlotte is a Southern city, it must be less than progressive and welcoming. How much bounce to our brand would we get from hosting what could be one of the most toxic conventions of our lifetimes?

Maybe that’s why so few cities went after this event. Only seven cities even took much of a look, officials say, and fewer than that went through a full application process. Compare that with the dozens of cities that have applied to host many previous conventions.

This is all assuming Trump is the nominee. If he weren’t, we’d be all in, but we won’t know that before a site decision is made this summer. So let Las Vegas have it, and take it as a sign of how far we’ve come that we don’t need to grovel for this vitriolic affair.