7) The rockets’ red glare. Democrats, 1980. It’s a pretty bad convention when they can’t even script the national anthem properly. But that was New York for Carter. Democrats asked one of the president’s best-known backers, Willie Nelson, to open the convention. But, as the nation watched, Nelson forgot the words. First, he left out the “rockets’ red glare” section. Then he ended the anthem much earlier than it should have ended. The producers tried to claim that Willie just wanted to drop the violence (“bombs bursting”). But he later told Rolling Stone, “The teleprompter wasn’t rolling at the same speed that I was.”
8) Where are the balloons? Democrats, 1980 and 2004. At two conventions, Democrats have bungled the balloon drop. First, there was 1980, where the balloons dribbled down one at a time. But, more colorfully, there was 2004, when the whole country heard convention producer Rob Mischer react angrily when the balloons failed to drop on cue after Sen. John Kerry’s acceptance address in Boston. “Go balloons. Go balloons. More balloons. All balloons. All balloons. C’mon, guys, let’s move it. We need more balloons,” Mischer ordered, unaware that CNN was broadcasting his orders live. Finally, in exasperation, he barked, “What happened to the balloons? What the f--- are you guys doing up there?” Not the message the Democrats wanted. Needless to say, CNN apologized for eavesdropping.
9) “Ohio passes.” Democrats, 1972. Back in the days when roll-call votes mattered and the outcomes on procedural votes affected the nomination, the folks who spoke for state delegations became known to the public. But, unfortunately for him, Frank King, the president of the Ohio AFL-CIO became famous for his befuddlement. Then, as now, Ohio was a key state. But every time it was Ohio’s turn to vote at the Miami Beach convention, a confused-looking King came to the microphone and, over and over again, intoned, “Ohio passes.” It became the iconic slogan of a badly run convention that communicated this party did not have its act together.
10) A McGovern-Mao ticket? Democrats, 1972. The Democrats were less interested in scripting in 1972 than in letting everybody have their say. But they started liking the idea a lot better when the nomination of a vice president dragged on and on, with multiple speeches and 70 candidates getting votes. Archie Bunker got a vote. Chinese leader Mao Zedong got a vote. And the presidential nominee finally started his acceptance speech at 3 a.m.—another sign that this party was not ready for prime time.