QUESTION. Mr. President, 51 former Democratic National Convention delegates are said to be urging you to retire for the good of the party and their criticism seems to be mainly on foreign policy. What is your comment on that?
THE PRESIDENT. None.
March 18, 1967. 9.05 AM. LBJ welcomes state governors, including new California Governor Ronald Reagan, above, to the White House for the “White House Conference of Governors on Federal-State Relations.”
“We are here to advise and consult with each other, as public executives, on the central business of our governments—the welfare of the American people. We are here on common ground, nonpartisan ground—as elected officials charged with the obligation of using public resources for the public good.”
LBJ Presidential Library photo #A3858-22, public domain. Read the rest of his remarks here.
December 21, 1966. 7:09 PM. LBJ is exasperated after spending the day with the Democratic state governors at the Ranch. LBJ tells Dean Rusk (starts at about 2:00) that they were “all rambunctious… rather insulting and so was I, so we didn’t do very well.”
Their complaints are about domestic issues, poverty programs, civil rights and patronage, LBJ says. Rusk then reports on questions he received at his press conference, on anti-ballistic missiles, Vietnam, and Food for India program.
LBJ Presidential Library photo #W526-3.
December 21, 1966. One of the Governors present at the ranch on Dec. 21, 1966, is John Connally of Texas, who has just won election to a third term with 74% of the vote. His relationship with the President has lately become more fraught: Connally opposes two pieces of 1966 legislation supported by the White House: raising the minimum wage and repeal of right-to-work provisions in the Taft-Hartley Act. Especially egregious to Connally was the FBI monitoring of Texas voter registrations in March 1966. According to George Christian, who worked for both men:
"Connally wanted to be independent. He didn’t want to be identified as just ‘Lyndon’s boy John’ type of thing. He had his own views on things.He was quite upset at some of the things that the federal government was doing in Texas, and he sounded off. If he didn’t like it, he’d call Marvin Watson or Willard Wirtz or whoever he could get to‑‑….The President made reference from time to time that John was more conservative than he was, ‘John doesn’t feel the same as I do on that,’ or something to that effect. But he knew it. He might think in his own mind, ‘Old John’s wrong on that.’ But I never heard him say anything mean or anything of that nature about John Connally. Now I heard him say some things about lots of people, but I don’t recall him ever, ever referring to John Connally in any demeaning fashion. In the first place he had very great respect for him. And one of the few people I think that the President just really has up on a pedestal."
Transcript, George Christian Oral History Interview IV, 6/30/70, by Joe B. Frantz. Photo is LBJ and Gov. Connally (in foreground) at the Houston Astrodome, 04/09/1965, #A267-12. Both from the LBJ Presidential Library.
December 21, 1966. LBJ makes his case to a meeting of Democratic state Governors at the LBJ Ranch. The meeting was by request of the Governors, who had determined at a meeting of their own in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, earlier in December that they needed more input into the creation of federal policies that impact their states, You can read those meeting notes here. As Lady Bird noted on Dec. 16, their unhappiness with some of White House’s policies had become national news, and LBJ hopes to soothe their ruffled feathers.
From left to right, those facing the camera only) Gov. Richard Hughes (New Jersey), President Lyndon B. Johnson, aide Marvin Watson, (former) Gov. Farris Bryant (Florida). Other governors in attendance today are: Dan K. Moore (North Carolina), Robert E. McNair (South Carolina), Mills E. Godwin, Jr. (Virginia), Hulett Smith (West Virginia), Philip H. Hoff (Vermont), Harold E. Hughes (Iowa), John Connally (Texas), Karl F. Rolvaag (Minnesota), and Warren E. Hearnes (Missouri).
LBJ Presidential Library photo #4164-19.
November 8, 1966. The election returns are in. Republicans have captured three seats in the Senate and 47 seats in the House of Representatives: it is now 248/187 in the House and 64/36 in the Senate, with the Democrats still in the majority in both. One of the new Republican Senators is former Massachusetts Attorney General Edward Brooke, who becomes the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.
The Republican resurgence bodes ill for LBJ in 1968, although in his conversation with the Vice President on Nov. 9, he puts a positive spin on the results. LBJ blames the loss on “fool liberals,” labor—especially the fight over Taft-Hartley 14(b), a right-to-work law—and even Martin Luther King.
November 8, 1966. Election Day. LBJ casts his vote at the Pedernales Electric Coop, Johnson City, Texas.
The campaigning in these midterm elections has been fierce: after the 1964 Demoratic sweep, the Republicans have rebounded and are focused on issues of inflation; the costs of the Great Society programs, and those programs’ failures and disappointments; crime; racial strife and riots; a stalled Vietnam War effort, as well as its rising toll in money and lives; and the perceived ”credibility gap" of the Johnson administration on many of these issues.
Democrats had enjoyed two years of a 295/140 majority in the House, and 67/33 majority in the Senate, and have controlled the majority of state governors and legislatures. Few Democrats expect to keep all of their contested seats: the question is how many they will lose. LBJ, for his part, was too good a student of politics to not expect a backlash against his policies—as early as February 1965 he warned his staff that their days of effective leadership were numbered.
LBJ Presidential Library photo #3849-30a. Public domain.
"QUESTION. Does the cancellation of your big campaign trip mean that you do not intend to do anything to help Democratic candidates before election, such as one little speech in Texas, or maybe a TV pep talk before election?
THE PRESIDENT. First, we don’t have any plans, so when you don’t have plans, you don’t cancel plans.
We get invited to come to most of the States. In the last 6 weeks we have been invited to 47 of the States by the candidates for Governor, or the Senate, or the Congress.
We have been invited on nonpolitical invitations to the other three States, I might say.
But we have not accepted those invitations. We do contact the local people who extend them. We do investigate in some instances going there, and we do express the hope that we can go.
But until it is firm, until we know we can, we do not say, “We accept,” and schedule it.
The people of this country ought to know that all these canceled plans primarily involve the imagination of people who phrase sentences and write columns, and have to report what they hope or what they imagine.
We have no plans for any political speeches between now and the election. We know of no requirement that we forgo them. I just don’t think they are necessary.”
However, it had already been reported in the press that LBJ had planned a campaign trip to Massachusetts, Illinois, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado that was now cancelled. This discrepancy was used by Republicans as an example of the ”credibility gap” in the Johnson administration. This seeming disparity between what the White House said, or promised, and what it delivered, became an effective issue for Republicans as they tried to take back—or at least win more seats in—the House and Senate.
Source: Congress and the Nation, Vol. II 1965-1968, Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Service, 1969, p. 7. Full press conference text available here.
September-October 1966. This White House-produced film documents the President’s activities for September and October of 1966. It contains lots of campaign footage for the upcoming midterm election, some of it no-holds-barred partisan rhetoric:
"Afraid, afraid, afraid. Republicans are afraid of their own shadows and they are afraid of the shadow of progress. But the only thing that most Americans are afraid of are Republicans. And that is why the Americans have given us a Democratic Congress and that is why the Congress has given us more education bills, more health bills, more dollars to fight poverty, more dollars to rebuild cities, more dollars to help people with Medicare than any Congress in the history of this Nation."
July 23, 1966. President and Lady Bird Johnson begin a busy day of stumping for Democrats in the upcoming election. They travel to Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois.
“We landed at Indianapolis, where, because the airport was under construction, there was not supposed to be any crowd. But thousands had gathered. Then we drove to downtown Indianapolis, where some forty-two thousand people filled a huge circle and poured out into the streets which radiated into it. In the middle stood a great dominating monument, at the base of which Lyndon spoke. A sea of faces, signs saying “WE LOVE LUCI,” “WE ARE BACKING YOU ON VIETNAM,” “WE HAVE A DAVE IN ‘68,” a wedding bell with “LUCI AND PAT” on it, and in the distance a sign, “VANCE SPEAKS FOR US.”
-Lady Bird Johnson, A White House Diary, July 23, 1966. LBJ Presidential library photo A2841-25.
So says the Gallup Poll on June 13, 1966, according to Lady Bird Johnson’s diary.
June 9, 1966. An irritated LBJ takes Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, R-Illinois, to task for speaking to the press about Vietnam. LBJ has heard that Dirksen wants to have a bipartisan conference on the war: LBJ tells Dirksen to “put on your hat and come down here” if he wants to talk rather than going to the media.
May 19, 1966. LBJ walks and talks with Louis Martin, a newspaper executive, Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and important liaison for LBJ with black political leaders. In his oral history Martin later described LBJ’s approach to government appointments:
"David G. McComb, interviewer: You know, it’s a cliche that Johnson as president was interested in appointing people from minorities. Is this true from your point of view?
Louis Martin: I think that President Johnson was very sensitive to the general charge that blacks did not have true equality of opportunity in the federal establishment. He also recognized the political value of getting good men in spots so if he found exceptionally qualified blacks he really covered two bases. He got the job done, but he also got some political points. Now my feeling about Johnson, and this is what I used to tell many Negroes in the newspaper business and others—is that since Johnson was a Southerner, he would normally, being a good politician, lean over backwards to prove that he was not a racist. Further, there’s something in the folklore of Negro life that a reconstructed Southerner is really far more liberal than a liberal Yankee. And I exploited this part of the folklore.
Mc: Is that true as far as Johnson is concerned?
M: I think it is true. I think Johnson did many things that Kennedy would never have done, including appointing Andrew Brimmer as a governor of the Federal Reserve Board. I don’t think I’d have ever gotten Kennedy to do that. Johnson did it without prodding. Nobody pressured Johnson, nobody prodded him, nobody told him, nobody marched, nobody did anything. Johnson saw the merits of this guy.”
LBJ Library, Transcript, Louis Martin Oral History Interview I, 5/14/69, by David G. McComb. Photo A2471-18, public domain.
Mr. President, you know this is a campaign year and I’ll be getting out, speaking up for the Republicans. They’ll need all the voices they can get. But there won’t be anything personal in what I say about you in what I say about the Democratic Administration.
December 20, 1965. LBJ speaks with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara about the 1967 budget, and how to estimate the costs of a war that may (they hope) end at any moment. At around 9:45 McNamara explains that “it would be a serious error” for LBJ to ask for a tax increase, when they may not need more money for defense. LBJ asks about possible Congressional reactions to this strategy, and McNamara enumerates the likely Republican accusations (at about 10:40):
"Fictitious reporting, misleading the American people, seeking to finance the Great Society by deficit spending, hiding from the public the true facts relating to war, you know…."