Having been vice president himself, LBJ had a deep understanding of the position. Leading up to the 1964 election, he wanted to maintain maximum flexibility to choose his own running mate. That involved fending off increasingly widespread calls to go with a popular choice amongst Democratic voters, the attorney-general, Robert F. Kennedy.
In this July 1964 call, about 3 weeks before the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, LBJ asks Robert F. Wagner, Jr., the mayor of New York, to leak to the press that the party leaders support the President's right to choose his running mate and that a divided party is something to be avoided.
LBJ suggests that he say, "that they don't want the president to be required to sleep with anybody he doesn't want to sleep with. And he ought to have a man with vice president that he trusts and likes and can work with him. We oughtn't to have a divided ticket to start, and therefore, you expect to support the man the President selects . . . I just don't think it can do us a bit of good to have a divided thing there, a divided party."
In this call on February 1, 1964, LBJ tells Sargent Shriver that "I think a man [who] runs for vice president is a very foolish man. [The] man runs away from it is very wise. I wished I'd had run farther away from it that I did. ... And don't you ever be a candidate and don't let anybody else be a candidate and tell them anybody that runs for it never gets it."
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A Republican on a Democratic Ticket?
LBJ floats the idea of nominating Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense, as the vice presidential candidate. McNamara was registered as a Republican and was a former president of the Ford Motor Company.
President Johnson: What do you think about [Robert] McNamara?
Senator Richard Russell: I’m for McNamara. I’m going—
President Johnson: Do you think you could nominate a Republican vice president?
Russell: I think it would help. Hell, he never has been enough for any party to hurt.
President Johnson: He’s got a lot of checks that he gave the Republicans.
Russell: Well . . .
President Johnson: Trying to satisfy Henry Ford [II]. He plays on the team.
Russell: I don’t—I wouldn’t be the least bit repulsed about that. Hell, Eisenhower was—what was he?
April 9, 1964
Extracted from David Shreve and Robert Johnson, eds., The Presidential Recordings: Lyndon B. Johnson, volume 5 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007), p.898
Tape WH6404.06, Citation #2954
"Any guy that’s running a campaign claims victory."
Supporters of Eugene McCarthy were spreading rumors that McCarthy had secured the vice presidential spot on Johnson's ticket for the 1964 election. Johnson pointed out that it was a natural tactic: "any guy that's running a campaign claims victory." Johnson instructed his press secretary, Bill Moyers, to let it be known that the field was still wide open.
Bill Moyers: [Unclear] Doug also says that Marquis Childs called him and told him that agents of [Eugene] McCarthy—people describing themselves as agents of McCarthy, were going around Atlantic City today saying that he had all wrapped up. He wanted some guidance on that.
President Johnson: Well, just tell him that there’s nobody got it wrapped up, that I have not talked to McCarthy, have never had a conversation with him, but I wouldn’t think that agents of McCarthy would say “our man is defeated, and we’re rigged, and we’re ruined, and so forth.” Or agents of [Hubert] Humphrey. All of them are going to claim victory. Any guy that’s running a campaign claims victory.
Moyers: All right. That’s good.
President Johnson: And it’s natural for them to claim victory. But there’s four or five people very, very seriously considered, and one of them is McCarthy. And one of them is [Mike] Mansfield. And one of them is Humphrey. And one of them is [Ed] Muskie. One of them is Pastore. And one of them is Clark Kerr. I’d just throw his name all over it up there. Just say—they’re liable to really get surprised.
Moyers: All right, sir.
President Johnson: Because Humphrey hasn’t got enough sense. He’s—he gets on the firing line, he [is] going to get shot at, you see, and destroyed.
President Johnson: They’ll make a real full-grown communist with a bastard baby out of him before Monday if he just keeps on.
Moyers: Do you have any objection to telling somebody like—one of the networks like Ed Morgan, about this, these five people?
President Johnson: No. No. No. [Unclear.]
Moyers: I think it’d be good. All right, sir.
................................. WH6408.32 #5115 August 24, 1964
"He's an arrogant, he's an egotistical, a selfish person that feels like he's almost anointed. And he is so power-mad that it's unbelievable."
July 23, 1964. As pressure mounted on Johnson to choose party favorite Bobby Kennedy as his vice presidential running mate, LBJ reached out to political ally John Connally, the governor of Texas.
John Connally: Well, of course, again, I think your great appeal is, and your great strength in this country now is, that you're doing what you think is right. And, of course, I feel very strongly about it, as you know, and I think if you have to take Bobby [Kennedy] on in a goddamn fight, let's take him on. And that's one thing that could get me out of this goddamn capital and come up there and help you, I'll tell you that. If it comes to that, why, I don't know what I can do, but I can carry wood or water. But if he wants to put up a fight, why, let's have one.
But I think you can whip him in a standstill. It won't even be close. I don't think he'll make the fight. And I damn sure agree that you ought not to give him running room between now and August. I agree with Clark Clifford and them. I just think you ought to just tell him now, and if he wants to do something about it, why, sure he's got 30 days. But, by damn, you've got 30 days, too. And I'd just go on and tell him. I'd get it over with, because I'd hell of a lot rather fight with him, as I told you, I'd rather fight with him between now and August than I would the next four years.
And I don't think there's any question but what he'll try to . . . he would be delighted to see you defeated. Ain't no question about that in my mind. He's an arrogant, he's an egotistical, a selfish person that feels like he's almost anointed. And he is so power-mad that it's unbelievable. And that's the very reason you can't take him on this ticket: because most people know it.