President Jimmy Carter, looking like he knows his balloons aren't coming.

President Jimmy Carter, looking like he knows his balloons aren’t coming. (Screenshot: Youtube)

The final night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention was rife with star turns—Khizr Khan’s stirring speech about his son’s military service, Emanuel Cleaver’s foot-stomping endorsement, and Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of the Democratic Nomination, the first offered to a woman in a major party. 

But the true heroes, obviously, were the balloons:

Balloons are an all-American convention tradition—they’ve been falling from the sky onto nominees ever since 1932, when the Republicans first busted them out to celebrate Herbert Hoover. Since then, they’ve done their gravitational tango for every single Republican nominee, and a few Democratic ones as well. 

There was one candidate, though, for whom they refused to cascade: Jimmy Carter. On August 14, 1980, as the Democratic incumbent wrapped up his speech onstage at Madison Square Garden, the audience applauded, gearing up for the big aftershow. Everything was in place: the music pumping, the crowd yelling, the balloons waiting, hushed, in giant corrals on the ceiling. The floodgates were opened, the applause rose up, and then—nothing. Well, barely anything:

This was less of a celebratory waterfall and more of a halfhearted trickle. “Backstage crew worked wretchedly to jerk the containers open before the mesmerized throng,” the New York Times wrote the next day. “‘Free the Democratic balloons!’ came a shout in the hall.” 

The trail was full of such indignities for Carter, and he ended up losing to Ronald Reagan in a landslide much larger than the balloons ever gave him. Sorry, pal.

So let’s all pop one for Carter. And if your particular day calls for sad balloon gifs, here you go:

(Hat tip to Smithsonian for this floaty bit of history!)