A Bit of History: Lyndon B. Johnson Accepts the Nod to Become Vice-President, July 14, 1960
President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson prior to ceremony for the Workmens' Compensation Commemorative Stamp, White House. 31 August 1961, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Photographer Abbie Rowe, Wikipedia
The 1960 Election
The next day, Kennedy won the Democratic nomination on the first ballot and then had twenty-four hours to select a vice president. He had given no indication of having made up his mind in advance. The party's pragmatists urged Kennedy to choose Johnson in order to carry Texas and the South, but conservatives like Richard Russell urged Johnson to stay off the liberal-leaning ticket. Still recalling the bitter experience of "Cactus Jack" Garner, who traded the House speakership for the vice-presidency with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rayburn and the Texas delegation adamantly opposed the notion that Johnson should give up the majority leadership for the hollow status of being vice president. Liberal Democrats reacted negatively to Johnson as a wheeler-dealer, and Robert Kennedy, as the campaign manager, had given his word to labor leaders and civil rights groups that Johnson would never be the vice-presidential candidate. When John Kennedy reported that he would offer the second spot to Johnson, his brother interpreted the move as only a token gesture of party solidarity, since Johnson had told people he would never accept the second spot. Then Johnson astonished both brothers by accepting. Considering the choice a terrible mistake, Robert Kennedy was delegated to talk the Texan out of running. Going to Johnson's suite, he proposed that the Texas become instead the Democratic party's national chairman. But a tearful Johnson declared, "I want to be Vice President, and, if the President will have me, I'll join him in making a fight for it." John Kennedy chose to retain him on the ticket, but the animosity between Johnson and Robert Kennedy never diminished.
Pondering why Johnson had accepted, some of his aides thought that he saw no future in being Kennedy's majority leader. If he succeeded in enacting the party platform, the credit would have gone to the president. If he failed, the blame would have been his. Since the Texas state legislature had passed a law permitting Johnson to run for reelection to the Senate at the same time that he sought national office, Johnson may also have been gambling that Kennedy would lose to Richard Nixon, leaving Johnson as majority leader with a Republican in the White House. Another factor, mentioned by Johnson's friends, was that Lady Bird Johnson had influenced his decision by reasoning that, after his heart attack, the vice-presidency would be less strenuous than the majority leadership. Johnson offered his own reason when he called Richard Russell and explained that, if he had declined the vice-presidency, he would have been "left out" of party affairs in the future.
Before the campaign could begin, the Kennedy-Johnson ticket had to return to Washington for a post-convention session of the Senate. On the assumption that he would be the party's standard bearer, Johnson had devised this session to demonstrate his legislative prowess and launch his fall campaign. Instead, he found himself playing second fiddle. Republican senators mocked the majority leader, asking if he had cleared moves in advance with "your leader." When the Democratic Policy Committee met for its regular luncheon, everyone waited to see whether Kennedy would bounce Johnson from his usual place at the head of the table. Kennedy dodged the issue by not showing up. With the Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, presiding over the Senate as vice president, Senate Republicans were not likely to hand Kennedy any victories. The session failed dismally.
Editor's Note: The deadline for naming a Republican Vice-President is Friday, July 15th. The announcement has been delayed due to the Nice, France attack Thursday evening.
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