Why LBJ Chose Not To Run for Reelection in 1968 – Then Attempted To Retract it
(Excerpted and reedited from Who Really Killed Martin Luther King Jr.?)
When he was twelve years old, Lyndon Johnson proclaimed to some friends, “Someday, I’m going to be president of the United States.” Thereafter, he was never shy about repeating that statement to anyone willing to listen and, with time, his resolve never lessened: In fact, it became an obsession of his, so ingrained that it became an inseparable part of his being. Naturally, once achieved, he would do everything under his power to remain in office for as long as possible, and he did just that; at least, until the point that he had no choice left but to drop out.
Lyndon Johnson’s “Worst Nightmare”
From the moment he became president on November 22, 1963, on the tarmac at Love Field in Dallas, Lyndon Johnson lived in fear of the possibility that either Robert or Edward Kennedy might ever become president.
Johnson felt particularly threatened by Bobby and was so afraid of the possibility of a groundswell of support for RFK’s nomination as vice president at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City that he went to lengthy manipulative efforts to prevent any chance of that.
Throughout the first two years after his “landslide” election, as the public got to know him better, even as his legislative accomplishments increased, his popularity numbers declined. It was merely one cause of the public’s distrust of Johnson: what reporters had euphemistically begun calling his “credibility gap” – the result of the growing public realization of his intrinsic dishonesty – the only thing in ascendancy at that point.
By the last half of 1967, his disastrous Vietnam policies had caused increasing public anger due to the loss of so many young men in an unnecessary, unwinnable and completely futile war that had no discernable relation to national security.
Such was the sorry state of affairs within his own administration that many of his most stalwart aides and cabinet officials, such as Bill Moyers and Robert McNamara, had left, under clouds of disgust and confusion, caused in large part by the absence of information regarding whether they had resigned or were fired.
In September 1967, Newsweek magazine (which had until then been among Johnson’s strongest supporters) reported: 
“He is the first President in U.S. history to be beset simultaneously with a major war abroad and a major rebellion at home—neither of them going well or holding forth any promise of the kind of sudden and dramatic improvement that alone could reverse the rising tide of anger, frustration and bitterness that is cresting around the White House. He is also a President whose own personality has become an issue in itself—an issue, indeed, that seems increasingly to be producing almost as much criticism and contention as the war in Vietnam and the tumult in the ghettos.”
By the end of 1967, some of Johnson’s staff had reported that he had already begun to talk about dropping out of the 1968 election, including his top aide Marvin Watson (who had filled the vacant Moyers position).
In late January 1968 the Vietcong began the “Tet Offensive,” a surprise attack launched simultaneously throughout South Vietnam, setting off bombs and attacking even the “invulnerable” American embassy in Saigon. Finally, the majority of Americans began to understand that President Johnson had brazenly lied to them about the “light at the end of the tunnel” and the fact of how “enemy body counts” were inflated across the board by as much as 100%.
Johnson’s troubles, and especially his “biggest nightmare,” were all behind what would play out on March 31st, throughout the next five months, and everything else related to the 1968 political events yet to occur.
Robert Kennedy’s Entrée
Likewise, LBJ’s political difficulties, and the March 12th near-victory of Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy over Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, were the impetus for Robert Kennedy to reevaluate his previous position against running for president that year.
Four days later, on March 16th, RFK announced his entry into the presidential race, stating: “I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I’m obliged to do all I can.”
Two weeks after that, President Johnson announced his departure from the reelection campaign. Johnson made his stunning announcement on March 31, 1968, on a television broadcast that was mostly about yet another change in strategy in his war planning. That talk ran on for over 4,000 words before he finally came to the best twenty-one-word sentence he had ever uttered: “Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”
Parties immediately broke out all over the nation, especially in college town bars and cities across the country. There has arguably never been such a spontaneous, decentralized, and widespread celebration, before or since. People of all political stripes, young and old, were literally dancing in the streets, according to the president himself:
“[T]he thing I feared from the first day of my Presidency was actually coming true, Robert Kennedy had openly announced his intention to reclaim the throne in the memory of his brother. And the American people, swayed by the magic of the name, were dancing in the streets.” (Emphasis added).
A Deeper Look at LBJ’s Decision to Quit: Were There Greater Objectives?
For a man who had spent decades being obsessed with becoming the president of the United States, after having fulfilled his dream, to then sacrifice that office without a fight meant that he had undergone a powerful transformation: His voluntarily giving up the position for which he had lusted his entire lifetime could only mean that he surrendered it in order to accomplish certain other, even greater, objectives.
His primary concern at that point would have undoubtedly been to ensure that his tenure as president would be enshrined forever in a legacy befitting one of the “greatest presidents of all time.” Only a position in the same tier as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt in the pantheon of US presidents would be adequate for him, at least in his own mind, a point that he had made himself on numerous occasions. As Richard Goodwin – the speechwriter Johnson had inherited from JFK – had alluded to on several occasions, to achieve that rarefied status, he intended to “out-Roosevelt Roosevelt.”
But to accomplish that, he would have to ensure that no one then alive and in a powerful position to succeed him—anyone who might wish to destroy the myth of his “greatness”—would ever be allowed to follow him into the White House. Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were the men he feared the most, because he knew that they knew the truth about those myths.
As if on cue, only four days after Johnson announced he would not run again, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis. Two months after that, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. Both of these murders were the result of many months of planning, primarily by the FBI (in King’s case) and the CIA (in RFK’s case) with plenty of support and assistance between the two and other governmental entities, including military intelligence and local police agencies, as documented in the referenced sources.
After the Assassinations – Johnson Attempted to Re-Enter the Race
In yet another of a lengthy series of “startling developments” that tumultuous year, shortly after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson acted to put him
Article from LewRockwell