REPUBLICAN CZAR SIG ROGICH
WEIGHS IN ON
THE BIG RED MESS
By Charlotte Evans
The Republican Party is in an absurd a state of chaos, but make no mistake: masterminds at the highest level are engineering a plan to win the White House. That plan could include placing Nevada’s Governor Brian Sandoval, one of the nation’s most popular governors, in the number two slot on the Republican ticket (behind one of the party’s—shall we say, more palatable—candidates.) A Kasich/Sandoval team, for instance, could be a game-changer for the Republican Party. It would also be a never-before-seen presidential power play for the State of Nevada. If the Republican “establishment” is banking on a late and lucky shuffle of the deck of candidates for a win in November, Las Vegan Sig Rogich may be the quiet man mixing the cards.
Behind the scenes, Sigmund “Sig” Rogich is one of the most powerful Republicans in the country (considered in some circles to be one of the most influential people on the planet). Although this Las Vegas High School graduate flies largely under the public’s radar, given the chance, the halls of Congress hush to eavesdrop on his every word. He’s the quintessential power broker, credited with helping George H.W. Bush win the White House by driving his powerful media campaign and advising his strategy. Among his many titles, Rogich served as a top aide to the first President Bush and as United States Ambassador to Iceland, his native country before his family set roots in Las Vegas in 1954. His sage advice has been sought for decades by presidents, governors, party brokers, and the world’s business elite during a long and illustrious career that started with him as a bellman and busboy on the Las Vegas Strip. Rogich founded Nevada’s largest advertising firm, R&R Partners, and today his work continues as president of his international media relations firm, The Rogich Communications Group (RCG). We caught up with him in late April.
Vegas Legal Magazine: Certainly there’s a more delicate way of phrasing this, but the reality is it’s being asked this bluntly on television and across the country: What the hell is happening right now to the Republican party?
Sig Rogich: Well there’s not a lot happening to the Republican Party that hasn’t happened to all parties in the past—the Democratic Party, with crazy primaries of Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie in 1968 and later, Howard Dean, come to mind. But if you look at it objectively, about 35 percent of the GOP is not happy with the party. The same is true of the Democrats, and it’s not that far removed from the way things have been historically. The 35 percent or so that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are getting is indicative of that.
VLM: Is this internal divide a historic turning point for the GOP or a huge speed bump?
SR: That’s a good question. I don’t believe that having Trump as the standard bearer for the Republican Party can do anything but spell disaster. And so it could mean a generation of regrouping. Let’s face it: Republicans cannot win the presidency now or in the future without getting about 35 percent of the Latino/Hispanic votes in America. Anything less means the GOP loses traditional Republican states like Georgia and North Carolina, to name a couple. Republicans should have that Latino vote because they believe in the same important issues such as family and religion and a work ethic of fair pay for hard work. Latinos have pride and do not want handouts, and the GOP has done a miserable job of letting them know that we share in those common beliefs. Donald Trump and his message of anger and hatred is just what we cannot have if we are going to be successful.
VLM: How will the Tea Party figure into the election?
SR: Tea Party members will vote for the GOP nominee. Make no mistake about it. And Hillary as the Democrat nominee will energize the base if the nominee is anyone other than Trump.
VLM: Clearly, the Republican establishment would like to shift support away from Donald Trump. Do you anticipate a bloody summer in this regard, and is it likely your voice will be increasingly called upon behind the scenes and in public?
SR: I think Donald Trump is doing exactly what I thought he would do…self-destruct. His salvo on abortion is a perfect example of his free-wheeling, off the cuff, lack of political savvy and understanding the difference between earning television ratings as a celebrity figure and being a candidate for the most important office in the United States, if not the world. I expect either Cruz or Kasich to be the nominee and I look forward to helping in any way I can.
VLM: How will the makeup of Congress be affected by this election?
SR: Well if it were Trump, I believe Republicans would lose control of the U.S. Senate as well as about 25 seats in the House, not to mention about 15 legislative bodies across America. But with another nominee, I think the U.S. Senate can be held, and many of the other scenarios [would] change too.
VLM: What will be the biggest challenges facing the next president of the United States.
SR: There are many, but we will have to undo the last 7 years of the current administration’s lack of respect and understanding for our position and our obligation in the world. We lost 50 years of diplomacy, maybe more, in just 8 years. And the sad part is that it may take us another 50 years to get back to where we were. I am a great fan of Winston Churchill and I am reminded of his quote: “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
VLM: Nevada has one of the most popular Republican governors in the country right now. What are Governor Sandoval’s options? How would you advise him?
SR: Well I’ve said for a few years now, our governor is the perfect candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court. As a former attorney general, legislator, federal court judge, and now governor, he has a resume that has to be envied by many. I think his future is still defining itself, but I think it offers opportunities that haven’t even been mentioned yet. Certainly if Republicans win the White House, this governor can be an instrumental player at the highest levels. He’s special for sure.
VLM: You mentioned “a player at the highest levels.” Can you be more specific? Would you forecast a VP slot for Governor Sandoval, a cabinet post, an ambassadorship, if not the Supreme Court?
SR: Well I think Governor Sandoval is a candidate for all of the above. Certainly he would be an extraordinary interior secretary and a Republican president would find him very attractive as a Supreme Court justice that could easily pass congressional approval.
VLM: Nevada’s Republican governor is popular, but is the Nevada GOP in good shape or in need of some tuning?
SR: The party is today reminiscent of the party of 1964 when the John Birch Society was the Tea Party of that day. But it will coalesce and vote heavily against Hillary, in my opinion. However, as I’ve said, that will not be the case if Donald Trump is the nominee, because many moderate and liberal Republicans will stay home.
VLM: What are the biggest issues facing Nevada today, and what would you like to see Republicans, or Democrats, accomplish here?
SR: Water, water and more water. We have unlimited space and opportunity, but we need to protect our water resources. And that’s why Harry Reid was the perfect senator at the perfect time when it came to protecting our state’s water for future generations. It’s why I, and hundreds of other Republicans, supported his re-election. Granted, many did not entirely support his politics, but he was the most powerful ally we could have when it came time to negotiating for and protecting our water resources on the Colorado River and beyond.
VLM: You have known former President George H.W. Bush for many decades and are credited with helping him win the White House. What has that friendship meant to you?
SR: It’s been a blessing and a great honor. I’ve yet to meet anyone I admire more. His sense of propriety and decorum are lacking in today’s political world. He had a deep understanding of service to the people and what his office represented to our nation, and that was reflected in his thoughtfulness in how he did things, what he said, and more importantly when he chose to act. I had the privilege of traveling with him to nearly 50 countries and 50 states and several hundred cities in the world, and to witness his interactions with people at historic times in our lifetime was truly something to behold. I have since had a chance to reflect and measure his accomplishments, and those of us who were by his side were there with great pride. All he did was make us look good. We are still friends today and I am grateful to have the unique opportunity to hear his thoughts on the world, and I can’t think of anything but a sense of pride that he allowed me to help him in my small way.
VLM: A lot of people, especially Republicans, turn to you for advice. Whom do you seek out for counsel?
SR: I seek out those people I respect and with whom I’ve worked with in the past or with whose work I’m familiar. The senior levels of the political universe comprise a relatively small universe and I’ve had some very good advice from friends on the other side of the aisle. There’s just no license to good thinking and I look at some things that the opposition has done and think how a tweak here and there would have worked for our clients too. And I’m sure that is something that can cut both ways when the folks we are working against see some of our work. But those were reflections on the old days when I was fully engaged in this business called politics and management. In today’s world, the best taskmasters are those that have adapted to the world of social media and instant communication. These guys and gals are the smartest, regardless of which party they support. And I just wish that I had many of them by my side in the early days of my career. Today’s intellect is remarkable.
VLM: As we head toward print, news of the Panama Papers leak is starting to spread across the globe. The Prime Minister of Iceland just stepped down amid revelations his family had millions stowed in an offshore company. As the former United States Ambassador to Iceland, how do you feel this will impact Iceland?
SR: I think Iceland will overcome this issue, which was not so much one of criminality, but of perceptions. Iceland, as you know, went through a terrible banking crisis and overcame it; but the idea that the prime minister wasn’t sharing in the pain of his people—by sending his family fortunes to an off-shore site like Panama to minimize his tax exposure—was just too much for the public to handle and so he was forced to step down. But from what I understand, the prime minister was not doing anything illegal, but rather was punished for minimizing his tax burden through legal channels, and his only mistake appears to be utilizing the system to his advantage.
VLM: The volume of information that is expected to come out in the Panama Papers leak is, at this point, incomprehensible. Do you foresee it touching Las Vegas’ legal and financial communities? Is there tension surrounding this?
SR: I don’t think it will reach Las Vegas from a banking standpoint, but it certainly hit home when stories broke about all the legal accounts that were set up here by the same attorneys who coordinated all of this since its inception. Nevada offers significant business opportunities and incentives for businesses here and we shouldn’t let this issue get in the way of our friendly business climate. I know that LLCs offering anonymity plays havoc with some members of the press who want to know every owner of every company, but I would hate to see the laws changed until there are real reasons to do so.
VLM: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
SR: I guess just being a good businessman and an honorable one. The rest just sort of came instinctually. I grew up here in Nevada, at a place called Victory Village, in a 500-square-foot house for six of us. To think about going from there to being an assistant to the president of the United States, flying hundreds of thousands of miles on Air Force One and just being able to offer some advice to America’s president, how can that not be among the greatest honors of my life? But I would also say, being able to help and fight for my state along the way is also a proud accomplishment. However, I would like to add that what I am most grateful for in my career, are the people I have had the honor to work with and call friends over the years. Whether it was in politics or business, I have always felt extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such talented, thoughtful and dedicated people.
VLM: As you mentioned, your friendship with President George H. W. Bush continues today. Obviously much of what you share is highly confidential; however, is there something you have shared recently that you would feel comfortable sharing with us?
SR: About six weeks ago I had a long, three-hour lunch with the president, Barbara, Jim Baker, the former secretary of state, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham. All I can say is that the conversation was spirited and the world’s events were discussed, and I didn’t see any lack of enthusiasm or knowledge of world and domestic events on the part of the president. He was just fun to be with, and James Baker’s views on the world are always on point.
Charlotte Evans is an award-winning journalist whose honors include multiple categories of Emmy, RTNDA, WIC, and Golden Mic awards. She has lived in the Las Vegas Valley since 1992, and for more than 17 years she anchored the news at KLAS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Las Vegas. Evans is director of operations for Vegas Legal Magazine (VLM), and freelances as a writer and media relations specialist.