Hello and welcome back to another edition of the presidential election series as will be discussing the election of 1964, as the president is looking for re-election but at the same token the decisions he and his opponent will make in this race will drastically change the landscape of American politics going forward… here comes LBJ!
The Life and Death of President Kennedy
After winning the 1960 election in a close one, President John F. Kennedy was looking to lead America into a prosperous future, however, Kennedy had to deal with foreign conflicts like the threat of Communism as seen in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis with latter being the closest America and the Soviet Union ever got to full on nuclear war.
Meanwhile back at home, the issue of racism still persisted in the U.S. as the Civil Rights Movement continued to grow in popularity with many African Americans and even White Americans coming together in the fight to have basic civil rights passed for a group that had been marginalized for more then a century.
In response, Kennedy attempted to pass a civil rights bills that would help many disenfranchised blacks and see a major turning point in the fight for civil rights, but many in congress (in particular Southern Democrats) instead wanted the bill to die on the Senate floor and so no action was taken to pass it.
JFK was successful in getting programs passed that helped to build relations with Latin American and signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which helped in abolishing wage disparities caused by gender pay gaps; He also advocated for the idea of sending a man to the moon before the decade was over and he appointed future Supreme Court Justice Thrugood Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Unfortunately any other achievements that JFK could’ve had during his presidency were forever changed on November 22nd, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by former marine, Lee Harvey Oswald while traveling with his wife Jackie via motorcade in the streets of Dallas Texas ending his life at the young age of forty-six and making Kennedy the last president to die while in office.
The Election of 1964; President Lyndon B. Johnson
Not long after JFK’s death, his vice president Lyndon Baines Johnson has sworn in as the 36th president of the United States onboard Air Force One and he was tasked with maintaining stability all over the nation following the unexpected death of JFK, despite many not knowing who he was and even those associated with the Kennedy administration made fun of LBJ and his wife, Lady Bird’s Southern upbringing.
Undeterred, President Johnson pushed forward his plans to help out the poor and middle class with his “War on Poverty” which led to the passing of the Economic Opportunity Act and the Revenue Act of 1964 which resulted in the poverty rate going down, more chances for the average American to get work and saw unemployment going down in the years to come.
Johnson also decided to push forward with sending more American soldiers to help South Vietnam take on the communist North Vietnam following the notorious “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” which was a heavily disputed moment in which U.S. ships were allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese boats just off the Gulf of Tonkin.
While President Kennedy was the one who actually sent U.S. troops to fight in what would eventually be ‘The Vietnam War’, It was Johnson who escalated the conflict into being war we know today and this is despite the fact Johnson promised to not to sent American soldiers to fight in Vietnam.
While this was going on, President Johnson had to deal with a piece of legislation that the would change the lives of millions back then and even now.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
While his plans to combat poverty at home and communism in Vietnam are already set into motion, President Johnson must now move heaven and earth to try to get enough support sign a bill that many believed couldn’t get done: The Civil Rights Bill.
On November 27th, 1963 Lyndon Johnson mentions during a speech given to Congress that the best way to honor the memory of the fallen JFK was the push forward with the Civil Rights Bill that was left for dead on the Senate Floor by many Southern Democrats who believed in Jim Crow policies that segregated against African Americans.
When it becomes clear that Johnson is looking to get a more expansive version of the Civil Rights Bill passed into law, many States Rights’ Democrats attempt to talk him out of it only for the president to respond with “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”
Even though many Southern Democrats attempted to fillbuster the bill to prevent it from passing, it’s thanks to much persuading and intimidating on LBJ’s part that the bill was passed through Congress and on July 2nd 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signs into the law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prevented people of color to be discriminated against based on their race, sex, color or religion.
While the President Johnson’ signing of the Civil Rights Act is among one of the top achievements of his time in the White Office, he is reported to have told an aide that “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.” yet, the fact he signed the bill knowing that the ramifications would be horrendous for the Democrats in years to come really says something.
The Election of 1964; RFK vs. LBJ
As 1964 approaches, Lyndon Johnson decides to running in the up-and-coming election with aim of winning the presidency in his own way but his biggest challenge in getting the party’s nomination was the Attorney General and brother to John F. Kennedy, Robert Francis Kennedy.
The distain RFK and LBJ had for each other was well known even before Johnson became president, but many Democrats who supported the Kennedy family wanted Robert Kennedy to be on the 1964 with LBJ as the running mate in hopes that this would bring Kennedy one step closer to the presidency in the years to come, but Johnson turned this down and even had the his aides and the FBI monitor Kennedy prevent him from announcing his bid for the presidency.
Chaos also surrounds Mississipi as it relates to their delegates with many African Americans being denied in favor of an all white delegation and this almost leads to President Johnson almost calling it quits on the whole thing, but his wife is able to convince him to keep on running.
By the time of the Democratic Party’s nominating convention, LBJ manages to outmaneuver Kennedy’s plans to announce his candiacy for president and at the convention Johnson’s running mate is announced to be Minnesota Governor, Hubert Humphrey who was a key figure in the liberal wing of the party after giving a speech all the way back in 1948 promoting the idea of the Democrats supportting Civil Rights for African Americans.
So that’s been Lyndon Johnson time in the oval office up to this point and his won the nomination of his party, now it’s time to take a look at his opponent in this presidential election.
Barry Goldwater: The Father of Modern Conservatism
As President Johnson attempts to make himself comfortable in the White House, a conservative Arizona Senator by the name of Barry M. Goldwater is seen as the guy who should run for president by a large grassroots movement of young conservative voters, thinkers and writers who share similar views to Goldwater.
Problem is Goldwater wasn’t interested in running following the assassination of his friend, John F. Kennedy and as such he was declining any ideas of running for president, but that all changes when on Janaury 3rd 1964, Goldwater announces to the press that he will seek the Republican Party’s nomination for president; What leds to the change of heart by Goldwater is the overwelming amount of support his getting from both old and young conservatives who believe his the one to save the country from the liberal, democratic changes that have been occurring under both Kennedy and more specifically Lyndon Johnson.
While the support of this grassroots movement is something that helps to make the senator reconsider his decision to run, it’s Goldwater’s own ambition to reshaped the Republican Party under his conservative belief that’s motivating him as the GOP was basically under the control of the liberal, eastern establishment wing of the Republican Party at the time and Goldwater (much like his supporters) felt the best way to change course in the party was to win the presidency and take over the party.As Goldwater tepidly runs for the nomination, he’ll have to take on the liberal wing of the Republican Party to make it happen.
The Election of 1964; Goldwater vs. Rockefeller
The two leading candidates trying to get the Republican Party’s nomination was Barry Goldwater and New York Governor, Nelson Rockfeller who was back at after his unsuccessful attempt at being the nominee back in 1960.
Rockfeller and his liberal/moderate Republicans viewed Goldwater and his growing number of supporters as extremists whose policies on small government, cutting social security and welfare, getting involved in foreign conflicts around the world were too radicial for mainstream American and this led to a number of moderate to liberal Republicans like Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., George Romney, William Scranton and Rockfeller himself all running with the hope that they could appeal to much of the party to win the nomination and prevent Goldwater takeover.
While the primaries where back and forth between Goldwater and Rockfeller, the Republican National Convention would see the conservative grassroots movement under Goldwater really come out in droves to support their candidate with many of them booing and heckling the establishment Republicans with chants of “We Want Barry” flooding the entire convention hall.
Ultimately, Barry Goldwater outperforms his fellow Republicans to win party’s nomination ensuring that the conservative wing of the GOP emerges victorious.
Goldwater chooses William Miller, a lesser known U.S. Representative from New York as his running mate mostly for the simple reason that Miller would drive LBJ nuts with his conservatism according to the Arizona Senator.
After getting the nomination, Barry Goldwater decides to throw out the usual ‘uniting the party to defeat our politician opponent come election day’ speech and instead focused his vitriol onto the liberal wing of his party culminating his speech with the famous words “Let me remind all of you, that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
With this speech, coupled with the actions of President Lyndon Johnson relating to Civil Rights will lead to a massive political shift in the not so distance future…So now that the candidates have been discussed let’s focus on the campaigns and the attack ads that were used in this election.
The Election of 1964; Attack Ads and Campaigns
As the election officially got underway, President Johnson was leading the polls not only for his work during his short time in office but also because he was able to paint his opponent, Barry Goldwater as a far right, warmongering radical.
This is best emphasized with the infamous ‘Daisy Girl Ad’ which sees a innocent little girl picking away at a flower before a countdown suddenly commences and within seconds a nuclear explosion occurs with LBJ narrating over with a ominous warning about for the future. The ad indirectly warns America that if Goldwater was to be elected president then a full on nuclear war would start and this comes not too long after the threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis…So the fear of nuclear destruction is still fresh in the minds of many Americans.
Goldwater also had the misfortune making numerous gaffes throughout his career getting the use of nuclear weapons, cutting social security, voting against the recently signed Civil Rights Act and the Johnson adminstration would use these remarks and decisions by Goldwater in very effective attacks ads which further hurt the senator’s chances of winning.
On opposite side, Goldwater is producing ads that are attempting to soften the radical image that president and media has painted him out as while also showing images of Billie Sol Estes and Bobby Baker, two men who were associated with Lyndon Johnson for a long time and were accused and arrested for accounts of fraud, bribery and corruption in the 1950’s.
Due to Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act and Goldwater refusal to sign it, many influential Southern Democrats began supporting Barry Goldwater as well members of the Ku Klux Klan which didn’t help in seperating the idea of Goldwater being a racist even though in reality Goldwater supported the Civil Rights bills of Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy and even pushed for intergation within his homestate of Arizona before running for office.
The liberal wing of the Republican Party refused to support Goldwater so much that they threw their support behind the President Johnson as well as many African Americans who had supported the Republican Party prior to this election.
Despite an October Surprise in the form of LBJ’s personal aide, Walter Jenkins being arrested for doing homosexual acts with another man in a public restroom, things still looked bleak for Goldwater going into election day…Speaking of which it’s time to look at the results.
The Election of 1964; Results
From this election onward there are 538 electoral votes with 270 votes being the miminum to win the election, but as you can see from the electoral map above Lyndon Johnson got more than that to secured a full term as President of the United States.
Johnson received a jaw dropping 486 electoral votes and 61.1% of the popular vote compared to Barry Goldwater’s 52 electoral votes and 38.5% of the popular vote.
LBJ became the last president since Franklin Roosevelt to win all the midwestern states that usually vote the Republicans and he also received the largest percentage of the popular vote in a presidential election since Warren G. Harding back in 1920.
Now normally this is where I wrap up the article but there is still one piece left to take about as that’s the results regarding Goldwater’s influence on the GOP.
Awakening the Sleeping Giant
They say history is written by the victors…however the opposite could be said for Senator Barry Goldwater.
Sure, Goldwater was beaten in a landslide victory in the 1964 election but the fact someone that far right could defeat the Liberal Republicans to get the party’s nomination was a shocking moment and many of the young conservatives who supported Goldwater were beginning to take over the party.
On top of that, many Southern Democrats who were fed up with the liberal policies taking over their party since the days of FDR decided to switch from Democrat to Republican by the time of the 1966 midterm elections including a former B list actor by the name of Ronald Reagan.
In short, even though Goldwater didn’t become the commander and chief, he did end up changing the Republican Party into what it is today…So in a way he did win.
In closing, that’s the election of 1964 LBJ has become president in his own right but his also changed things both for the good and for the bad and the next election article will see all the bad under Johnson adminsration make it’s way to the surface.