George Abbott

At a conference one day in the mid-1960s, Nevada Republican chair George Abbott told a national political reporter, “Barry Goldwater’s nomination shifted the center of power in the Republican Party about one thousand miles to the west. It’s not moving back.” Nearby an Eastern GOP leader who overheard Abbott snapped that some Westerners were “too big for their damned britches.”

Abbott, who was a leader in elevating the West to national political power, died last week at age 84. A Nebraska native and former federal subcabinet official and congressional committee lawyer who came to Nevada after the Eisenhower administration, he became close to Nevada Republican leader Paul Laxalt. As Laxalt rose from lieutenant governor to governor, Abbott became state GOP chair.

In July 1968, after the nomination of Richard Nixon as president, Abbott led a revolt at the Republican National Convention against Nixon’s choice of Spiro Agnew for vice president. Abbott nominated Michigan Gov. George Romney (father of the recent presidential candidate) in an electrifying nationally televised speech. Agnew defeated Romney 1,128 to 178. When Abbott arrived back in Nevada he faced a headline in a Reno newspaper: “Nevada GOP delegates want Abbott fired—pronto.” Nixon said he wasn’t offended, and Abbott kept his job.

Abbott later looked like a prophet when Agnew was forced to resign the vice presidency and plead no contest to tax evasion for failing to report bribes received from Maryland contractors.