As Democrats arrive in Charlotte, Convention Daily takes a look at five of the most notorious moments in the parties’ national convention history.
1. Riot Police. Police bludgeoned antiwar protesters with batons, young people fled clouds of tear gas, and delegates entered a convention hall ringed by barbed wire. Antiwar protests rocked the 1968 convention in Chicago, where delegates clashed over whether to include a “peace” plank in the platform. From the podium, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut accused Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley of using “Gestapo” tactics against protesters. TV viewers at home could not hear the mayor’s angry response, but they sure could read his lips, which seemed to say, “Fucker.” The chaos shocked the nation, turning many voters against the Democrats and toward the “law and order” campaign of Richard Nixon.
2. A Hurricane. Minnesota doesn’t typically suffer during hurricane season, but the 2008 Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul posed a problem. Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Louisiana on the day the convention was supposed to begin. The danger to New Orleans, already devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, resurrected painful memories of George W. Bush’s fumbling response to that disaster. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney canceled their scheduled convention speeches, Gulf-state officials made last-minute decisions to stay home, and talk even floated of postponing the event altogether. Eventually, the convention did proceed on an abbreviated three-day schedule.
3. Late-Night TV. After the chaos of 1968, Democrats wanted to make their convention process more transparent and friendly to minority views. But rule tweaks went awry in Miami for 1972 nominee George McGovern, whose acceptance speech was so delayed by vice presidential nomination speeches that he didn’t go on camera until 3 a.m. “I assume that everyone here is impressed with my control of this convention in that my choice for vice president was challenged by only 39 other nominees,” McGovern joked. But there weren’t many viewers to laugh along with him. That was only the beginning of McGovern’s troubles. His pick, Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, had to withdraw his candidacy days later after disclosing that he suffered from depression.
4. Brawling. Delegates to the 1952 GOP convention in Chicago actually came to blows on the floor over which delegates from Georgia should be seated. The party that year was divided between establishment supporters of Sen. Robert Taft (son of ex-President Taft) and backers of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, a war hero with popular appeal. Although a similar fistfight didn’t break out at the 1964 Republican convention in San Francisco, party factions were just as divided that year between New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who proclaimed that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
5. Stealing the Gipper’s Thunder. Convention speeches can be controversial for their content or their timing. Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 speech at the Republican convention in Houston hit both marks. “There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself,” Buchanan told the crowd, in remarks that rallied the conservative base but alarmed moderates. Buchanan also talked so long that he kept former President Reagan out of prime time. Most Americans never saw what turned out to be the final convention speech by the Gipper.
This article appears in the September 3, 2012, edition of NJ Convention Daily.