Time and again, LIFE photographers like Alfred Eisenstaedt, Bill Ray, Thomas McAvoy, Ed Clark, Gjon Mili and others found ways to capture — and to bring home to LIFE’s millions of readers — the drama, tension and, occasionally, the humor inherent in big-time politics. And with the possible exception of election night, there’s simply 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 altogether. The “presumptive” nominee has already left any and all rivals behind in the primaries, and by the time the convention rolls around it’s usually all over except for the shouting. (And judging by some of the pictures here, nowadays even the shouting is less exciting than it used to be.) Nevertheless, we tune in every two years for whatever drama might be in store.
Here, LIFE.com presents a selection of LIFE’s best pictures from the GOP’s 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.