The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years)


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The Deadly Bet

A year later, he would popularize the term " silent majority " to describe those he viewed as being his target voters. He also pursued a " Southern strategy " designed to win conservative Southern white voters who had traditionally supported the Democratic Party. Humphrey trailed badly in polls taken in late August but narrowed Nixon's lead after Wallace's candidacy collapsed and Johnson suspended bombing in the Vietnam War. Nixon won a plurality of the popular vote by a narrow margin, but won by a large margin in the Electoral College , carrying most states outside of the Northeast. Wallace won five states in the Deep South and ran well in some ethnic enclave industrial districts in the North; he is the most recent third party candidate to win a state.

In the election of , incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson won the largest popular vote landslide in U. Presidential election history over Republican Barry Goldwater. During the presidential term that followed, Johnson was able to achieve many political successes, including the passage of the Great Society domestic programs including "War on Poverty" legislation , landmark civil rights legislation, and the continued exploration of space. Despite making significant achievements, his popular support would be short-lived.

At the same time, the country endured large-scale race riots in the streets of its larger cities, along with a generational revolt of young people and violent debates over foreign policy. The emergence of the hippie counterculture , the rise of New Left activism, and the emergence of the Black Power movement exacerbated social and cultural clashes between classes, generations, and races. Adding to the national crisis, on April 4, , civil rights leader Rev.

Martin Luther King, Jr. The most important reason for the precipitous decline of President Johnson's popularity was the Vietnam War , which he greatly escalated during his time in office. By late , over , American soldiers were fighting in Vietnam. In early January , Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara stated that the war would be winding down as the North Vietnamese were losing their will to fight, but shortly thereafter, they launched the Tet Offensive , in which they and Communist Vietcong forces launched simultaneous attacks on all government strongholds in South Vietnam.

Though a U. In addition, voters felt they could not trust their government's assessment and reporting of the war effort. The Pentagon called for sending several hundred thousand more soldiers to Vietnam.

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The Secret Service also prevented Johnson from appearing at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, because it could not guarantee his safety from assassination. The following candidates were frequently interviewed by major broadcast networks, were listed in publicly published national polls, or ran a campaign that extended beyond their home delegation in the case of favorite sons. The following candidates were nominated as favorite sons or ran in a primary in an effort to control their local delegations, potentially as stalking horses for other major candidates, but never seriously seeking the presidential nomination themselves.

The front-runner for the Republican nomination was former Vice President Richard Nixon , who formally began campaigning in January Thus, the party machinery and many of the new congressmen and governors supported him. Still, there was wariness in the Republican ranks over Nixon, who had lost the election and then lost the California gubernatorial election.

Some hoped a more "electable" candidate would emerge. To a great extent the story of the Republican primary campaign and nomination is the story of one Nixon opponent after another entering the race and then dropping out.


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Nixon was always clearly the front runner throughout the contest because of his superior organization, and he easily defeated the rest of the field. Nixon's first challenger was Michigan Governor George W. However, Romney, after a fact finding trip to Vietnam, told Detroit talk show host Lou Gordon that he had been "brainwashed" by the military and the diplomatic corps into supporting the Vietnam War; the remark led to weeks of ridicule in the national news media. Since he had turned against American involvement in Vietnam, Romney planned to run as the anti-war Republican version of Eugene McCarthy.

Senator Charles Percy was considered another potential threat to Nixon even before Romney's withdrawal, and had planned on potentially waging an active campaign after securing a role as Illinois's favorite son. Later however Percy declined to have his name presented on the ballot for the Illinois presidential primary, and while he never disclaimed his interest in the presidential nomination, he no longer actively sought it either. Rockefeller had originally not intended to run, having discounted a campaign for the nomination in and planned on making Senator Jacob Javits the favorite son , either in preparation of a presidential campaign or to secure him the second spot on the ticket; as Rockefeller warmed to the idea of entering the race again however, Javits moved his attentions back towards seeking a third term in the Senate.

By early spring, California Governor Ronald Reagan , the leader of the Republican Party's conservative wing, had become Nixon's chief rival. While this was a wide margin for Nixon, Reagan remained Nixon's leading challenger.


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Reagan's victory in California gave him a plurality of the nationwide primary vote, but his poor showing in most other state primaries left him far behind Nixon in the actual delegate count. As the Republican National Convention opened in Miami Beach, Florida , the Associated Press estimated that Nixon had delegate votes — only 11 short of the number he needed to win the nomination.

His only remaining obstacles were Reagan and Rockefeller, who were planning to unite their forces in a "stop-Nixon" movement. Because Goldwater had done well in the Deep South , delegates to the Republican National Convention would be more Southern and conservative than past conventions. There was a real possibility that the conservative Reagan would be nominated if there was no victor on the first ballot. Nixon narrowly secured the nomination on the first ballot, with the aid of South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond , who had switched parties in Finch declined that offer, but would later serve as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in Nixon's Administration.

As of the presidential election, this was the last time two siblings Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller ran against each other in a Presidential primary. Because Lyndon Johnson had been elected to the presidency only once, in , and had served less than two full years of the term before that, the 22nd Amendment did not disqualify him from running for another term.

Despite growing opposition to Johnson's policies in Vietnam, it appeared that no prominent Democratic candidate would run against a sitting president of his own party. It was also accepted at the beginning of the year that Johnson's record of domestic accomplishments would overshadow public opposition to the Vietnam War and that he would easily boost his public image after he started campaigning.

Kennedy from New York, an outspoken critic of Johnson's policies with a large base of support, initially declined to run against Johnson in the primaries. Poll numbers also suggested that a large share of Americans who opposed the Vietnam War felt the growth of the anti-war hippie movement among younger Americans was not helping their cause. Although the American military was eventually able to fend off the attacks, and also inflict heavy losses among the communist opposition, the ability of the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong to launch large scale attacks during the Tet Offensive's long duration greatly weakened American support for the military draft and further combat operations in Vietnam.

Running as an anti-war candidate in the New Hampshire primary , McCarthy hoped to pressure the Democrats into publicly opposing the Vietnam War. Since New Hampshire was the first presidential primary of , McCarthy poured most of his limited resources into the state. He was boosted by thousands of young college students led by youth coordinator Sam Brown , [22] who shaved their beards and cut their hair to be "Clean for Gene".

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These students organized get-out-the-vote drives, rang doorbells, distributed McCarthy buttons and leaflets, and worked hard in New Hampshire for McCarthy. On March 12, McCarthy won 42 percent of the primary vote to Johnson's 49 percent, a shockingly strong showing against an incumbent president.

Even more impressively, since Johnson had more than 24 supporters running for the Democratic National Convention delegate slots to be filled in the election, while McCarthy's campaign organized more strategically, McCarthy won 20 of the 24 delegates. This gave McCarthy's campaign legitimacy and momentum. Sensing Johnson's vulnerability, Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy four days after the New Hampshire primary. Thereafter, McCarthy and Kennedy engaged in a series of state primaries. Kennedy won most of the primaries in which he and McCarthy were in direct competition.

On March 31, , following the New Hampshire primary and Kennedy's entry into the election, the president announced to the nation in a televised speech that he was suspending all bombing of North Vietnam in favor of peace talks. Johnson concluded his speech and startled the nation by announcing "With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the presidency of your country.

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.

Indeed, he died on January 22, , only two days after the new presidential term concluded. Bleak political forecasts also contributed to Johnson's withdrawal; internal polling by Johnson's campaign in Wisconsin, the next state to hold a primary election, showed the President trailing badly.

Historians have debated just why Johnson quit a few days after his weak showing in New Hampshire. Jeff Shesol says Johnson wanted out of the White House but also wanted vindication; when the indicators turned negative he decided to leave. Gould maintains that Johnson had neglected the party, was hurting it by his Vietnam policies, and underestimated McCarthy's strength until the very last minute, when it was too late for Johnson to recover.

His health was not good, and he was preoccupied with the Kennedy campaign; his wife was pressing for his retirement and his base of support continued to shrink. Leaving the race would allow him to pose as a peacemaker. Bennett, however, claims Johnson "had been forced out of a re-election race in by outrage over his policy in Southeast Asia". It has also been reported that Johnson decided to wind down his re-election bid after popular and influential CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite turned against the president's policy in Vietnam and recommended peace negotiations during a CBS News editorial which aired on February Since the Vietnam War had become the major issue that was dividing the Democratic Party, and Johnson had come to symbolize the war for many liberal Democrats, Johnson believed that he could not win the nomination without a major struggle, and that he would probably lose the election in November to the Republicans.

However, by withdrawing from the race he could avoid the stigma of defeat, and he could keep control of the party machinery by giving the nomination to Humphrey, who had been a loyal vice-president. He told Humphrey, who refused to use allegations based on illegal wiretaps of a presidential candidate.

Nixon himself called Johnson and denied the allegations. Dallek concludes that Nixon's advice to Saigon made no difference, and that Humphrey was so closely identified with Johnson's unpopular policies that no last-minute deal with Hanoi could have affected the election. However, in primaries where they campaigned directly against one another, Kennedy won three primaries Indiana, Nebraska, and California and McCarthy won one Oregon.

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Smathers from Florida, Senator Stephen M. Young from Ohio, and Governor Roger D. Branigin of Indiana. Instead, Humphrey concentrated on winning the delegates in non-primary states, where party leaders such as Chicago Mayor Richard J.


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  7. Daley controlled the delegate votes in their states. However, McCarthy upset Kennedy in the Oregon primary. McCarthy stumped the state's many colleges and universities, where he was treated as a hero for being the first presidential candidate to oppose the war. Kennedy campaigned in the ghettos and barrios of the state's larger cities, where he was mobbed by enthusiastic supporters. Kennedy and McCarthy engaged in a television debate a few days before the primary; it was generally considered a draw. However, McCarthy refused to withdraw from the race and made it clear that he would contest Kennedy in the upcoming New York primary, where McCarthy had much support from anti-war activists in New York City.

    The New York primary quickly became a moot point, however, for Kennedy was shot shortly after midnight on June 5; he died twenty-six hours later.

    The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years) The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years)
    The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years) The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years)
    The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years) The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years)
    The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years) The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years)
    The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years) The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years)
    The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years) The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam, and the 1968 Election (Vietnam: America in the War Years)

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