Time and again, LIFE photographers such as Alfred Eisenstaedt, Bill Ray, Thomas McAvoy, Ed Clark, Gjon Mili and others found ways to capture the drama, tension and, occasionally, the humor inherent in big-time politics. And with the possible exception of election night, there’s no more dramatic, tense or humorous time (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not) to watch the strange, imperfect mechanism of representative democracy at work than during a national convention.

In recent years, much of the drama around conventions has been leached out of the proceedings. The way that COVID-19 has impacted the conventions in 2020 has added an extra note of nostalgia to the images of conventions from years past.

Here, LIFE.com presents a selection of LIFE’s best pictures from the Republican national conventions across several decades. More than a few famous GOP stalwarts are here—Ike, Nixon, Goldwater, Thomas Dewey—as are other long-forgotten pols who were players in their day, and the delegates who, in the end, provide both parties’ conventions with their real energy

Scene at the 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.

The 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.

Ralph Crane/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene at the 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.

The 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.

Lynn Pelham/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Go-go girl and delegates during the 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.

A go-go girl entertained delegates during the 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.

Lynn Pelham/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Arizona politician and future U.S. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst (left) confers with Nebraska's Richard Herman during the 1964 GOP National Convention in San Francisco.

Arizona politician and future U.S. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst (left) conferred with Nebraska’s Richard Herman during the 1964 GOP National Convention in San Francisco.

Bill Ray/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Ronald Reagan at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco.

Ronald Reagan at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco.

Ralph Crane/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene during the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

The 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Michael Rougier/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Not originally published in LIFE. During the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Martin Luther King Jr. leads a demonstration calling for a strong Civil Rights plank in the GOP campaign platform.

During the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Martin Luther King Jr. led a demonstration calling for a strong Civil Rights plank in the GOP campaign platform.

Francis Miller/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene during the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

The 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Michael Rougier/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene during the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

The 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Michael Rougier/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene at the 1956 Republican National Convention, San Francisco, California.

The 1956 Republican National Convention, San Francisco, California.

Ed Clark/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Left to right: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, his wife Mamie, Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Pat, at the 1956 GOP National Convention, San Francisco, California.

Left to right: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, his wife Mamie, Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Pat, at the 1956 GOP National Convention, San Francisco, California.

Hank Walker/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene at the 1956 Republican National Convention, San Francisco.

The 1956 Republican National Convention, San Francisco.

Leonard McCombe/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Chairman of the Republican National Committee Arthur E. Summerfield on the telephone during the 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Chairman of the Republican National Committee Arthur E. Summerfield spoke on the telephone during the 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

George Skadding/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Control booth, 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Control booth, 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Cornell Capa/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Bertha Baur, a prominent figure at conventions for decades and a long-time member of the Republican National Committee, in an elephant hat at the 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Bertha Baur, a prominent figure at conventions for decades and a long-time member of the Republican National Committee, in an elephant hat at the 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Francis Miller/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Pennsylvania Governor John Fine (left) and Arthur Summerfield chat in private during the 1952 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Pennsylvania Governor John Fine (left) and Arthur Summerfield chatted in private during the 1952 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Ralph Morse/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Republicans hold an informal conference in a kitchen during the 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Republicans held an informal conference in a kitchen during the 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Cornell Capa/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Vice-presidential nominee Richard Nixon and his wife Pat talk with photographers during the 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Vice-presidential nominee Richard Nixon and his wife Pat spoke with photographers during the 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Ralph Morse/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene at the 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

The 1952 GOP National Convention in Chicago.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene at the 1948 GOP National Convention in Philadelphia.

The 1948 GOP National Convention in Philadelphia.

Gjon Mili/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Scene at the 1948 GOP National Convention in Philadelphia.

The 1948 GOP National Convention in Philadelphia.

Gjon Mili/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Pennsylvania delegates to the 1944 Republican National Convention in Chicago pull cold beers from a tub of ice after a caucus meeting.

Pennsylvania delegates to the 1944 Republican National Convention in Chicago pulled cold beers from a tub of ice after a caucus meeting.

Thomas McAvoy/Life Pictures/Getty Images

Delegates listen to Herbert Hoover during the 1944 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Delegates listened to Herbert Hoover during the 1944 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Gordon Coster/Life Pictures/Getty Images

A model wears a bathing suit in a fashion show at Ohio senator Robert Taft's headquarters during the 1940 GOP National Convention in Philadelphia.

A model wore a bathing suit in a fashion show at Ohio senator Robert Taft’s headquarters during the 1940 GOP National Convention in Philadelphia.

William C. Shrout/Life Pictures/Getty Images

A young Republican rests on a sofa in the Hotel Adelphi during the 1940 GOP National Convention in Philadelphia. ("Van" is Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, long considered a front-runner for the GOP nomination; instead, the Republicans nominated Indiana's Wendell Willkie, who lost the election to the Democratic incumbent, FDR.)

A young Republican rested on a sofa in the Hotel Adelphi during the 1940 GOP National Convention in Philadelphia. (“Van” was Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, who was long considered a front-runner for the GOP nomination; instead, the Republicans nominated Indiana’s Wendell Willkie, who lost the election to the Democratic incumbent, Franklin Roosevelt.)

David E. Scherman/Life Pictures/Getty Images

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