The Vice-Presidential Selection
Quite apart from the situation with Robert Kennedy, LBJ did not view the relationship between the presidency and vice presidency as a partnership. In this late July clip, he explained his thinking to New York City mayor Robert Wagner:
President Johnson: Some of these Republicans are trying to stir up a little trouble, friction at the convention.
Robert Wagner: Yeah.
President Johnson: And if you get a chance and you feel disposed to do it, I would personally appreciate it very much if you’d let the word leak out—not [for] direct attribution—but that the leadership there feels like that there’ll be no problem at the convention.
That it’s been traditional to go along with the President, and they don’t want the President to be required to sleep with anybody he doesn’t want to sleep with. And he ought to have a man as Vice President that he trusts and likes and can work with him. We oughtn’t to have a divided ticket to start, and therefore, you expect to support the man the President selects.
Wagner: Right. I’ll be able to do that very easily.
President Johnson: Do you have any feeling that there’s any leader up there that wouldn’t?
Wagner: No, I think that they’re—that they’ll all be 100 percent. I mean, after all, they know that you’re going to be the nominee, and that you’re going to win, and why should they want to fight with you?
President Johnson: That’s what I can’t understand. I don’t think anybody does except there are a few of them [who] want to promote a fight in the papers, and get a little excitement, and I just don’t think it can do us a bit of good to have a divided thing there, a divided party.
With Kennedy eliminated, Hubert Humphrey became the frontrunner for the slot. The same day as the call with Wagner, LBJ reached out to Humphrey advisor James Rowe to lay down his terms for considering Humphrey.
President Johnson: I want to be sure that they understand that there ain’t going to be nobody running against me for eight years, and going to be following my platform, and going to be supporting me, and going to be as loyal to me like I was to Kennedy.
James Rowe: I don’t think you’ll have a bit of problem on that one—
President Johnson: I want [him] to understand it; I want you to give it.
Rowe: To all three of them [Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and Orville Freeman]?
President Johnson: [with Rowe assenting throughout] No, just start on [Humphrey]. Just tell him we’re going to be doing some exploring with other people, we’re going to be talking to [Robert] Wagner over this weekend, that I told you to go on and get a couple of leaks about his strength.
But that doesn’t mean a commitment, and that doesn’t mean that I’m a double-crosser if it doesn’t come through that way, although you know that I’m very friendly.
He’d better make up his mind, now, whether he’s ready to go with me all the way on my platform, on my views, on my policies. Now, I’m willing to always listen to him, and I’m always willing to consider what he’s got to say. But when I make up my mind, I don’t want to have to kiss the ass of a Vice President.
Rowe: That’s right.
President Johnson: And just see if he wants to be considered under those circumstances. I want him to know that if he goes, the first thing he better do is try to put a stop to this hell-raising [with the MFDP], so we don’t throw out 15 states that’ll defeat us.
Rowe: Mm-hmm. You’re damn right.
President Johnson: And he better get his [UAW head Walter] Reuthers and the rest of ‘em in here, and Joe Rauh, and make ‘em behave. That’s the first thing.
But I’ve got to see that he’s loyal. I’ve got to be sure he’s for me.
President Johnson: I’ve got to be sure he won’t be running against me four years from now.
Rowe delivered the message; Humphrey called within an hour to agree to the President’s terms. But LBJ remained undecided, in part because of Humphrey’s tendency to talk to the press. Johnson explained in early August, again to Rowe:
President Johnson: This boy, our friend—Hubert—is just destroying himself with his big mouth.
James Rowe: Is he talking again?
President Johnson: Yeah, all the time. You just can’t stop it. He’s just got hydrophobia. And every responsible person gets frightened when they see him.
[Break; mentions with Rusk and McNamara said about the Tonkin Gulf attacks military briefing.]
President Johnson: Humphrey said, “Well, we have been carrying on some operations in that area. And we’ve been having some covert operations where we have been going in and knocking out roads and petroleum, and so forth.
President Johnson: And that’s exactly what we have been doing. But the damn fool got it up, and now he’s got [Oregon senator Wayne] Morse talking about it, who wasn’t in on the briefing.
And he’s just got to understand that you can’t talk about war plans. You just can’t talk about it. And he just ought to keep his goddamned big mouth shut on foreign affairs, at least until the election’s over.
President Johnson: And just say that this has just got people running wild, and they’re running in every moment to me—and for him not to be speculating on why the Communists would be doing something.
President Johnson: Just say, “I’ve got all I can do speculating on why I do something.”
As August proceeded, Johnson increasingly turned his attention to Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. This clip with aide Ken O’Donnell explained why:
President Johnson: How much stronger are you for Hubert [Humphrey] than you would be for Mansfield to be the vice-presidential nominee and Hubert to be the [Senate majority] leader? And would you want to evaluate that for me over the phone, just while we’re philosophizing a little bit?
I can see the relative merits of each of them.
Ken O’Donnell: I’d like to think about it.
President Johnson: I think that Hubert would stir up the liberals more and get more applause from the Negroes, and get a little bigger hand from the liberal columnists, the New Deal and maybe a good deal of the New Frontier than Mansfield. On the other hand, Mansfield has the respect and no one really hates him.
Of all the groups, he would, in the Rocky Mountain states, that area out there, he might give us a little lift, that Hubert wouldn’t give. I rather think he would, because he’s respected. I really believe Hubert would make the best leader that we could possibly have. I have not the slightest doubt of knowing which is most important to me.
I believe that overall you’d get more campaigning out of Mansfield being on the ticket with Humphrey [as] leader, than you would with Humphrey to be on the ticket and Mansfield leader, because I don’t think Mansfield’s going to campaign much if he’s leader. He’s just going to go back out to Montana and campaign for himself.
President Johnson: He might make a pretty good television appearance. He makes a pretty good speech. He’s a pretty judicious fellow. He’s a pretty careful fellow. He’s pretty strong on peace—that’s showing up in all of our polls.
By contrast, he doesn’t have the ADA handicap in the Rocky Mountain states when you talk to fellows like Palmer Hoyt of the Denver Post, and others, although they’re for Hubert.
In the end, Mansfield decided he didn’t want the job, and withdrew from consideration—in effect making Johnson’s choice for him.