August 16, 2018

1968. Republicans Gather in Miami Beach for the National Convention

Reporting from the Republican National Convention
Bill Downs interviewing then-Vice President Richard Nixon in the 1950s
Bill Downs

ABC News

August 3, 1968

This is Bill Downs in Miami Beach.

Even during Prohibition days, elbow-bending at political conventions was as important as arm-twisting. The Republican National bash is no exception.

There are some 40 hotels in the Miami Beach area which are housing the 27-hundred delegates and alternates and their friends and families. And in virtually every one of these delegate centers there is that peculiar political institution known as the "hospitality suite."

Hospitality suites range from the smoke-filled backroom where single delegates are regaled with arguments, alcohol, and branch water, to the really big operations such as in the hotel headquarters of candidates Nixon, Rockefeller, and Reagan—where whole ballrooms are equipped to provide hors d'oeuvres and a variety of potables for a couple thousand people at a time.

The amount of liquor consumed at an American political convention always has been immense since the first one was held more than a hundred years ago. But strangely enough, no one has ever figured out whether there is any relationship between an ounce of whiskey drunk and the way a delegate votes.

Because Miami Beach is a resort and vacation city specially designed for the entertainment of visitors, this GOP convention site has an extraordinary number of facilities for any Republican who would wet his whistle. There are a plethora of bars and nightspots ranging from the neighborhood saloon to the plushest of supper clubs. And in August, the hot sun and humid weather cooperate to keep everyone's thirst in constant demand.

So if one counts the myriad "hospitality suites" which dispense free booze throughout the delegation hotels plus the community's high number of commercial whiskey parlors, then by any toper's standard, Miami Beach will be the "wettest" city in the country during the time the Republicans are in town.

This is not to say that Republicans are more partial to the bottle than anyone else—heaven forbid. But traditionally the stein of beer, bourbon, and branch water, and in more recent times, the martini—such libations have been to the national political convention what axle grease was to the wagon wheel, what the buggy whip was to the sulky, what octane is to gasoline.

In recognition of this fact of American political life, the Florida Citrus Commission and the Puerto Rican rum industries this year got together for a bit of mutual promotion. They invented the "Favorite Sun Candidate"—the sun spelled S-U-N. The Favorite Sun Candidate is being boomed as the official drink of the GOP convention. It consists of a mixture of island rum and local orange squeezings, and is very good to you and for you, say the promoters.

All we can say is that we need time for research and development of these claims.

For example, what is the most effective mixture for impressing delegates; what proportion of rum in how much orange juice does a candidate need to change a Nixon delegate to a Rockefeller or Reagan. If we had the answer this weekend, we could name the ballot and the man who will win next week at convention hall.

Lacking this research data, we can only make this prediction from the convention punch bowl: the winner will be a Republican.

Bill Downs

ABC News

August 6, 1968

This is Bill Downs at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach.

Among the delegates to this confused Republican lovefest is a Georgia attorney named Anthony Alaimo. Besides being a member of the GOP Platform Committee, Alaimo is a World War II flyer who was shot down over Germany and thrown into a war prisoner's camp. It was the same POW camp made famous in the movie "The Great Escape"—and Delegate Alaimo helped dig the tunnel that figured in that escape drama.

The point of this story is that many reporters we've talked with may have to consult with Anthony Alaimo before the convention is over, because a lot of them are out of expense money and they're getting in so deep that they may have to tunnel under Miami Beach's Indian Creek back to the mainland and freedom. Otherwise they may have to spend the next four years until the next Republican convention washing dishes to pay off their debts for bread, board and entertainment expenses.

It's not that reporters and delegates don't expect to get hit in the pocketbook by the locals who take advantage of the people trapped by a convention. It's just that it's hard to get used to paying a dollar and a half for a hot dog, even if it is trimmed with a garden salad and pickle. And it's irritating to pay from 50 to 75 cents for a pack of cigarettes which before the GOP deluge were selling for 40 cents in the machines—which all have disappeared, it seems. Cheeseburgers in the beach hotels range from a buck and a half upward, depending on how chichi the establishment.

And one innocent copy boy went searching for a pair of swimming trunks intending to sneak off to a hotel pool when the boss wasn't looking. He'll either become a nudist or the world's greatest reporter, because the cheapest trunks he could find in an exclusive resort haberdashery cost 17 dollars.

Actually, price gouging here in Miami Beach is at a minimum, with most hotels sticking to their summer rates and prices.

In fact, few Republicans seem to know it, but the Florida Hotel and Restaurant Commission has 26 inspectors patrolling the beach hostelries, bars, and taverns assigned to see that the GOP delegates do not get gouged—at least too much. The commission has an office open day and night, and in case you're a delegate here and listening, if you have an overpriced complaint the Miami Beach number is 538-XXXX.

ABC News also has this story almost exclusively. The Republican wingding is not the only convention in town. Believe it or not, the National Funeral Directors Association also is meeting here. Their convention center is at the Bayfront Auditorium, and instead of featuring delegates and candidates, the Funeral Directors Association concentrates on the tools of its trade: sleek modern hearses, embalming fluid, and the latest thing in caskets.

For a while there we thought we might get the two conventions confused with each other. But then Monday Governor Reagan decided he wasn't a dead duck after all and changed things—if only a little bit.