Excerpts from Johnson’s Aborted 1968 Bid

On April 1, 2008, the LBJ Library released tapes from January through April 1968. Below are samples of calls dealing with Johnson’s short-lived campaign.

LBJ and Richard Daley, 2 Feb. 1968


President Johnson: This Charleston, West Virginia paper [the Daily Mail] took a poll of all the delegates [to the Democratic National Convention], and it ran about 1400 for me and Humphrey, and about 49 for McCarthy, and about 39 for Bobby.

The 39 stragglers—all of you damn fellows [delegation chairs] will put on a son of a bitch, and when you’ve got 50 states and only got 39 sons of bitches, that’s a pretty good average. We’ve got more than one bastard on our delegation, from Texas. [Daley chuckles.] But . . . I thought the poll came out pretty good.

But he [Kennedy] has got a few peaceniks up here in New York, and he’s got [Arthur] Schlesinger up at Harvard, and he has decided that it’s up to him to reclaim the Democratic Party.

Now, I’ll just tell you what will happen now: it just—beginning with me, and Hubert Humphrey, and [Texas governor] John Connally, and the rest of them—if you ever thought that they had a goddamn revolution in the party, you never would see . . . These just have been little kindergarten, play Indians until this one came along.

Richard Daley: The only thing—you know, you never make any suggestions to the President. You never—

President Johnson: Hm.

Daley: The only thing I would say to you, as a friend: don’t let them get you too excited on this—

President Johnson: They wouldn’t—they wouldn’t at all! But I just thought—

Daley: I said to this fellow in a telephone conversation, I says, “Robert, as an older man, and with great respect for the former President, don’t you do anything rash until I get a chance to talk to you.”

He said, “Well, what do you mean by that?”

I said, “Exactly what I said. Don’t be a goddamn fool. Because,” I said, “there’s a lot of people around you that just want you to stick your neck out, and want to push you out, because of their feelings against someone else.”

President Johnson: That’s right. How long ago was this?

Daley: This was last week.

LBJ and Richard Daley, 20 Mar. 1968 (four days after the New Hampshire primary)


President Johnson: He is calling everybody—he called Nebraska today—

Richard Daley: He’s getting panicky after this thing in New Hampshire.

President Johnson: Well, he did it before, Dick. Here’s what he did.

He told [Michigan senator] Phil Hart last Thursday—Thursday a week ago, last Thursday—a friend of mine heard him tell Phil Hart. Now, we didn’t get it second-hand—

Daley: Yeah.

President Johnson: —that he was going to announce as soon as New Hampshire was over with, that he had to announce and he was going to do it.

He went out to California presumably to see this Mexican who was fasting, this striker, this Cesar Chavez.

Daley: Oh, yeah.

President Johnson: And he went out to see [California House Speaker Jesse] Unruh. And Unruh was in here to see me about three weeks ago, and he wouldn’t go on our slate, because he wanted to hold Bobby’s slate. And he went out to see him this last week.

Now, he thinks that he can win California, and he thinks that McCarthy, I guess, can win Wisconsin. Now, I don’t think there’s any question but what they can win these 400 convention votes [chosen by state primaries], because I don’t see how I can get out and campaign for ‘em. I don’t see how I can . . . do that.

I think we have to take the 2600 [delegate] votes, and try to be as inactive as we can, let ‘em have the 400, get 1300 wrapped up, and then go on and try not to offend ‘em, and get in—try not to destroy the party. But . . .

I believe that the best man that I know of, outside of you, out there, in this town, who is amenable to listening to ‘em, and reasoning with Bobby—if he is subject to any reason—[is Clark Clifford]. I believe he wants something out of it, or he’s going to do it anyway, and I don’t know what we can give him.

I can’t throw Humphrey overboard. I’m not going to throw Rusk overboard, because I don’t believe it’s in the national interest. I am willing to be prudent and reasonable.

[Break.]

President Johnson: I think that after this big push on the cities [the aftermath of the urban riots], that we lost a lot of the sentiment in this country, because of the papers, and the television. And it’s just almost a panic thing.

In New Hampshire, I think they [the Kennedy forces] used a lot of their money. These kids were—practically every one, two-dollar-an-hour kids, from the colleges.

I talked to the governor [John King], and I talked to the senator [Thomas McIntyre], and I talked to the mayor [of Portsmouth, Ted Connors], and I talked to [state committeeman] Barney Boudin, and he said everything up there is bought and paid for, and brought in, and they never saw as much money come in from Boston.

So, I think it’s all a part of one strategy—these two [Kennedy and McCarthy]. They met today—McCarthy had a long meeting with Kennedy today.

LBJ and Walter Reuther, 20 Mar. 1968


President Johnson: The cold hard facts are we do not have control [in Vietnam], and [Eugene] McCarthy doesn’t, and Bobby doesn’t, and no one else does at this stage, unless and until they [the North Vietnamese] see that this second wave of theirs—we have their documents; we know what their plans are—is not successful.

Now, I can’t get out and promise that they’re not going to . . . There is no question but that their attitude is harder. They just do not want to talk. And I guess it’s like you [the UAW] are when you are negotiating, and you’ve got the upper hand, and they’ve got to come to you—they can’t pee a drop without you. I think that’s the position they’re [the North Vietnamese] in.

They’re being well-supported. They’re not hurting. We’re not destroying anything they’ve got. We’re not invading ‘em. We’re not trying to capture them, we’re not taking their cities, we’re not killing their civilians. When we hit a target in North Vietnam—we’re hitting damn few. Last year, we had 6½ months that we had a complete pause at both Hanoi and Haiphong.

I can’t stress those things. Because when I do, I get every hawk in the country who thinks I’m not doing enough. And they want me to take out Haiphong immediately—and when I do, I take out a Russian ship, and I got a lot more problems.

Now, when you look at these plans, there’s not much [that] anybody’s got to do. They [McCarthy and Kennedy] say they don’t want withdrawal; they say they don’t want surrender. McCarthy said he wants negotiation. Well, goddamnit, we do, too!

Walter Reuther: Surely.

President Johnson: But we have the responsibility.

Now, you’ve got to be responsible, too. And I know your [union] board will give you hell; and I get hell from all of my people all the time. But this is a period and a time—these boys can’t get this nomination. They’re not going to get it. We’re going to take these states, and they’re not going to come close to it. They’ll win some primaries, because I don’t have much time to make calls like this.

[Break.]

President Johnson: Now, if I can’t have fellows like you in this presidency, well, then, by God, they can take Nixon, or somebody else. But I just got to have you stand up when the going’s tough. Because when you got your back to the wall, I come to you, and I stand there. And when you got your strikes on, by God, you know that you’ve got a friend.

And I want you to tell the [Emil] Mayzes and the rest of ‘em that I’m no goddamn fascist. I’m trying to settle this thing. I’ll take anybody’s suggestion—if you’ve got a plan, anybody that wants it considered, we’ll sure get it in. But I can’t force this man [the North Vietnamese leadership] to talk to me and agree.

[Break.]

President Johnson: And of course they’re concerned about the war, and I am, too. Both daughters—both husbands are going out. One of them’s going to Hue and the other’s going to Da Nang. Right there in the middle of it. God knows, I’m more concerned than anybody.

I’ve got everybody in the country talking to me. I’ve got [Edwin] Reischauer in for two hours two weeks ago. I’ve got Tommy Thomspon writing me memos. I’ve got every human being.

Reuther: Sure.

President Johnson: But this is something that—Roosevelt couldn’t end the war with Hitler, by God, just on a chosen day, and I can’t end it, either.

Now, I’m not spreading it. I’ve been fighting it out there for four long years without involving China and Russia. And that’s some little feat in itself. And without invading North Vietnam, or Cambodia.

But if I have to play those rules, and play it safe, I can’t wipe ‘em out that quick.

Reuther: Sure.

President Johnson: If I was bloodthirsty and went in and took Hanoi and Haiphong and just flattened them out, I think that we could bring North Vietnam to their knees mighty damn quick. We might also bring Moscow to their knees, and they’d come in with us.

So that’s my problem.

Now, I want you to st about encouraging somebody else. Mayze is going out here and making these public and up and bear with me, and tell this board to cut this monkey business out of talking statements.

LBJ and Richard Daley, 2 Apr. 1968 (two days after the President announced his withdrawal)


President Johnson: The labor people and certain of the Negro groups are already calling and just raising unshirted hell—[AFL-CIO head George] Meany, and others—saying that Humphrey’s got to announce, and ought to announce immediately, and that they think that it’s outrageous I didn’t endorse him, and so forth.

I told ‘em I just didn’t think—I was trying my damndest to get peace. [Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bill] Fulbright and some of these boys play the Commie line, just do everything they can to keep you from it, and I didn’t think I ought to get involved in the thing [the nominating race], that I was going to see both of ‘em [Humphrey and Kennedy].

Now, when they come in this morning, what should I do besides sit there and listen to ‘em?

Richard Daley: I think that’s all I’d do.

President Johnson: Mm. Well, that’s what—that’s my reaction.

LBJ and Mayor Daley

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