Putting LBJ on the Ticket

by Michael Potemra

Robert Caro’s new LBJ volume, covering the period 1958–64, is coming out shortly. People who enjoy political-hardball stories will love it. One of the most fascinating parts I’ve encountered is Caro’s account of all the tsuris that surrounded JFK’s putting LBJ on the ticket at the convention in 1960. I grew up with the story most of us did, the one that was put about by Bobby Kennedy and Arthur Schlesinger: that JFK’s offer was strictly pro forma, that LBJ was expected to reject it because he wouldn’t want to step down from being Senate majority leader to the obscurity of the vice presidency, and that when he did in fact accept it the Kennedy team (especially Bobby Kennedy) scrambled to find a way to get rid of a running mate they didn’t really want. Based on his research, Caro tentatively suggests another, somewhat more plausible theory: that Bobby Kennedy was so ferocious in its attempt to derail the LBJ nomination simply because he wasn’t aware that his brother, the nominee, had decided firmly on LBJ, and that JFK had kept Bobby out of the loop precisely because he knew Bobby would be unhappy with the choice.

As Caro explains it, JFK’s decision made perfect sense: The labor-union representatives and other liberals would squawk about having Johnson on the ticket, but if the Kennedy campaign wanted to win in November, they needed Texas.

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