The Kennedy Vice-Presidential Campaign
Despite his frosty personal relationship with Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy made an ill-concealed bid for the 1964 vice-presidential nomination. This effort created in a July Newsweek article in which Kennedy suggested that most party activists in the North supported him, but LBJ didn’t want to name him to the slot because he was a Kennedy. The Attorney General was in Poland when the article appeared; when he returned to the United States, he and Johnson discussed the fallout.
Robert Kennedy: Also, yesterday, Mr. President, I read that—for the first time read that article in Newsweek.
I talked to him [editor Ben Bradlee] for—you know, he made a trip with me. And then, you know, I just spoke about all of these matters quite frankly and openly, as I always have. I never thought he was going to quote me, or take things out of context.
Well, he wrote that article. He said, “You know, do you think anybody’s for you?” And I’d say, “Well, I worked for a long time on political campaigns, so I know a lot of those leaders in the North.”
And then—you know, he didn’t take notes, so he couldn’t possibly get the quote correctly.
And then I said I thought that it was Lyndon Johnson’s administration after January, and that he would like to have it on his own, so I wouldn’t think that he’d like to have a Kennedy directly associated with it. If I were he, I’d feel that way.
So, you know, I just spoke in that context. As it came out, I didn’t think it was very happy—
President Johnson: I thought it was quite unfortunate.
What they’re doing—every one of them’s playing it. I see this morning—
Kennedy:: [Syndicated columnist] Dave Lawrence—
President Johnson: —you’ve got [Leroy] Batchelder of ABC Radio: “Some of the extremists backing Kennedy are challenging Johnson”—
Kennedy: Of course, nobody’s doing that—
President Johnson: David Wells of NBC, and Lawrence, and [Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Ralph] McGill, [St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Richard] Dudman, [Baltimore Sun columnist Thomas] O’Neill—they’re going to try to get us fighting. I hope we don’t have to—
Kennedy: No. And you know I’m not . . . Hell, and I haven’t done it . . . You know, I’ve talked to people for seven months, and nobody’s ever done—written anything like that, nor has anybody ever come to you . . . You know, because it would be impossible for anybody to come and say anything like that. Because it hasn’t been done, and I haven’t done it.
Now, people are going to write whatever they want to write.
LBJ and Robert Kennedy
The President was not soothed by Kennedy’s reassurances, as he made clear to Texas governor John Connally.
President Johnson: Now, I have about come to the conclusion, that it is just as positive as we’re sitting here that he [Kennedy] is going to force a roll call on his name for this place or the other place [the vice presidency].
John Connally: Hmm.
President Johnson: I think probably the vice presidency, at the moment.
He will have some people in every delegation that have been friendly, or some way or the other, and he’ll be in touch with ‘em. And they’re going to have an emotional thing with this film [about President Kennedy], and Mrs. Kennedy, and all of them. Then he’s going to really make the pitch.
President Johnson: Most of ‘em think that he is determined that he wants this job, and he’ll do anything in the world he can to get it; and if by causing a fight, he thinks that he can probably make me throw the election. And he’d like to see me a defeated man like [Adlai] Stevenson.
President Johnson: That’s one reason he’s not unhappy about what’s happening in the South.
Connally: And I don’t think there’s any question but what he’ll try—he would be delighted to see you defeated. Ain’t no question about that in my mind.
He’s an arrogant, an egotistical, a selfish person that feels like he’s almost anointed. He is so power-mad that it’s unbelievable. And that’s the very reason you can’t take him on this ticket—because most people know it.
LBJ and Larry O’Brien
In the end, of course, the President eliminated Kennedy (and the cabinet) from consideration; in Washington, Johnson fumed to Larry O’Brien about press coverage of the question.
President Johnson: Now, I’m getting a barrage of unnecessary heckling and harassing today from [the Kennedy compound in] Hyannisport. [Reads a newspaper article.] “Attorney General Kennedy received a barrage of telephone calls and messages from supporters angered at the manner”—at the manner—“in which the President eliminated him as a Democratic candidate. Informed sources said the callers, backers of the Attorney General and the late President Kennedy, asked the Attorney General what their next move should be.”
Larry O’Brien: That’s Hyannisport dateline?
President Johnson: Yes, sir.
O’Brien: My God!
President Johnson: And there ain’t nobody that knows about the “barrage of calls” without his [Kennedy’s] knowing it.
O’Brien: I’ll have to agree there.
President Johnson: Now, will you talk to Ken [O’Donnell] about that? Because what I’m going to do, if they just keep on, I’m going to sock him right in the puss, and I don’t want to do that.
President Johnson: And, number two, this business about people calling—hell, I can tell him how many called me! And I can also say that I talked to about 50 delegations, and there’s only four of ‘em that mentioned it!
President Johnson: Here’s two things about this that I think it’s bad. Number one: that he, or his friends at Hyannisport, are putting out criticism of the manner in which the President acted.
President Johnson: That’s bad enough for our opponents—not for our cabinet.
President Johnson: To be talking about the President’s “manner,” unquote.
The second thing is that the Attorney General is refusing to be a part of the campaign which he suggested himself for, before he tells me.