END OF MARCH SURPRISE IN '68
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) In November 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson won the fifth most impressive popular vote victory in presidential history in his decisive defeat of Senator Barry Goldwater.
LBJ won 61.1% of the popular vote which stands today as the highest margin of victory since 1820. Mr. Johnson, who had been sworn into office on the death of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, carried 44 states and the District of Columbia.
Forty-eight years ago tonight, however, President Johnson surprised the nation with his announcement that he would not be a candidate for re-election in 1968. LBJ said...
"I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President."
LBJ's words, according to Tom Wicker, came as a "stunning surprise even to close associates" who had been informed of what the President was going to announce shortly before the speech began.
Up until that closing statement, LBJ discussed Vietnam. He announced a partial bombing halt of the North and said that he would be sending 13,500 additional troops.
There has been much debate as to the reasons why LBJ decided not to run in 1968. One excellent source for the answers comes from James R. Jones, President Johnson's Chief of Staff in 1968.
Mr. Jones argued in an article for the New York Times in 1988 that the "fear of losing...was not the reason..." He says the real reason was the unsuccessful and unpopular war in Vietnam.
James R. Jones wrote...
"As our casualties grew, the abstract agony caused by the daily situation reports became a personal pain for the President when his own son-in-law, Charles Robb, a Marine captain, entered combat."
There is also the very telling photograph of LBJ sitting alone in the Cabinet Room listening in anguish to a reel-to-reel tape recorded by Captain Robb detailing the worsening conditions in Vietnam.
James Jones accompanied LBJ to the Ranch for a meeting with John B. Connally and Lady Bird in which all agreed the President should not run.
On the day of the address, Mr. Johnson presented a copy of his speech to Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey. When the Vice-President came to the line about not seeking another term, his eyes filled with tears. LBJ said "you'd better start planning your campaign."
Mr. Humphrey replied, "There's no way I can beat the Kennedys."
Mr. Jones adds that health concerns were another major factor in LBJ's decision. He had a history of heart problems and his own father had died of a heart attack at age 64. President Johnson sincerely felt he would not live through another term.
As it turned out, LBJ died of a heart attack at his ranch in Texas at the age of 64.
*James R. Jones was born in Muskogee, OK & graduated from the University of Oklahoma & Georgetown University Law Center. He served in the US Army Reserve. After serving LBJ as Chief of Staff, JRJ returned to his law practice. Today he is a parner in the Mynatt, Phelps & Phillips law firm.
"Behind LBJ's Decision Not to Run in 68," by James R. Jones. New York Times, April 16, 1988, www.nytimes.com/
"Johnson Says He Won't Run," by Tom Wicker, New York Times, April 1, 1968, www.nytimes.com/
James R. Jones