February 09, 2014

Counterfactual history: LBJ names RFK his Veep

Long-term regular readers of this blog know that I occasionally like to write these essays into counterfactual history. As a history buff (college minor) I find they fulfill an inner need to ponder some of the "whys" and other things of history, as well as providing an outlet for keeping my analytical and creative thinking skills sharp.

So, here's this one, starting with the necessary historical background.

In the spring of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson said he would consider no member of his Cabinet for the nomination to run with him as vice president. Well, without naming names, the general public and especially Democratic Party stalwarts knew just what that meant. Only one member of LBJ's cabinet, the attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the late president, had hinted at any such interest, or been talked up by the public.

Bobby, though, had been talked up in spades. And, he had been forceful in trying to get his name on the ticket.

But LBJ, with a cabinet full of Jack Kennedy nominees, and still with fears of coming off as "Rufus Cornpone" to them and others, didn't want a Vice President Kennedy overshadowing him.

But, what if he had thought differently? And acted differently?

Things would have been a lot different, especially late in 1967 and on into 1968.

Bobby Kennedy would have been hard-pressed, even after Gene McCarthy entered the 1968 race as an anti-Vietnam candidate, to speak against the war himself. Party stalwarts would have considered it treason. Plus, LBJ would have been able to get Bob McNamara or somebody else to testify how, when Jack was president, Bobby had been at least as much a hawk on Vietnam as his brother, etc. Plus, with the revelation that Bobby knew about the 1963 CIA assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, if LBJ spun it right, the public would have believed anything about Bobby and Nam.

Related to that, any effort Bobby did make at the presidency before LBJ's March 31, 1968 withdrawal from candidacy speech would have seemed like the rank opportunism that it was. And, afterward.

Then, Martin Luther King Jr. would have been assassinated four days later. The aftermath of that would have overshadowed a Kennedy announcement.

Bobby would have either had to make a very delayed announcement while facing the Johnson machinery and possible antagonism, or waited until 1972.

Without a Vice President Humphrey to run, what would Johnson have done? Supported Bobby? Tabbed Sen. Humphrey as a likeable, pliable, still-hawkish liberal? Possibly. Certainly more likely than supporting Bobby.

Rather, LBJ would have pulled a Taft, 1912. Just as Taft used every bit of party machinery to turn back Teddy Roosevelt, LBJ would have done the same against Bobby Kennedy.

Now, as he did in real history with the Hump as his Veep, would he have forced Humphrey to take some sort of pledge to support administration policy? Likely so.

Question is, with Hubert Horatio not actually being LBJ's Veep, would he have kept at least part of his pecker in his own pocket, and at some point, say a month before the election, started distancing himself from LBJ?

Let's say "yes," with the distancing being small at first. Maybe that would have prodded LBJ to call for his bombing halt a week earlier than he did. Or, if he refused to call for one at all, in spite (many have argued that Johnson wanted Nixon to win more than Humphrey, in large part over Vietnam), HHH might just have finished growing himself a pair, and pledged a bombing halt himself.

Let us say that's enough to push the Hump over the top.

We get continued liberal appointments to the Supreme Court, though Abe Fortas still steps down. Much of the Great Society remains in place, with continued support. Reagan and Rocky square off for the 1972 GOP nomination. Reagan wins, but loses to the Hump and the GOP gets an even earlier start on becoming the party of today, or Rocky wins, then beats Humphrey and the GOP crazies are stuck, or he loses to Hump, narrowly, because the crazies refuse to vote, and moderate GOPers start the exodus.

And if Nixon won?

Bobby runs in 1972, gets nominated, but gets semi-McGoverned. Between this, Chappaquiddick for Teddy and reflections on the narrowness of Jack's 1960 win, the Kennedy dynasty and Camelot myths die a cold, painful death.

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