KC Johnson

Politics Tapes

President Kennedy and California governor Pat Brown, 7 November 1962, discussing Brown’s defeat of Nixon in the 1962 CA gubernatorial race and Nixon’s infamous post-defeat press conference. The original of the tape frequently skips.

President Kennedy: . . . do it in 1960. Hell, I’d gotten them all in shape, so that . . . [Needle skips.] Huh?

Governor Pat Brown: Well, let me just tell you this—

President Kennedy: I’ll tell you this—you just reduced him to the nut house.

Brown: Listen: you gave me instructions and I follow your orders! [Unclear.]

President Kennedy: [chuckling] I understand. But God, that last farewell speech of his . . .

Brown: Wasn’t that terrible?

President Kennedy: Well, no, but it shows . . . [Needle skips.] What’s going to happen out there?

Brown: I don’t see how he can ever recover. [He lost] the leaders.

President Kennedy: Yeah.

Brown: [Former senator] Goodwin Knight walked out on him; [California conservative leader] Joe Shell told me he walked out on him.

This is a peculiar fellow. I really think he’s psychotic. He’s an able man, but he’s nuts.

President Kennedy: Yeah.

Brown: Like a lot of these paranoics. But . . .


The clip below features Jenkins communicating to Kilgore that the President opposed a Kilgore challenge to Yarborough, and mentioning that an administration appointment could be in the offing once Kilgore’s House term expired. Kilgore worried about appearances–but neither he nor Jenkins viewed their discussion as hinting at illegalities.

Walter Jenkins: I think I told you all along that what we really hoped is that you could go back and run for your [House] seat. We still hope so; I still think you could. I think those people would get out in a minute.

Congressman Joe Kilgore: I think so. But I don’t want to do that.

Jenkins: And if not, why, we’d like to figure out [break in recording] you didn’t think you could be interested in.

Kilgore: I don’t think I could afford to be under the circumstances.

Jenkins: Well, maybe you could after . . . You know, this [the end of his term] doesn’t take place for a good many months. Your term [in the House] lasts another 10 months, and—

Kilgore: Eleven.

Jenkins: I think the situation—eleven months—would be quite different then—

Kilgore: Well—

Jenkins: —[than] it is now. I don’t believe it would be quite so fresh on peoples’ minds. And I think the fear you have would be—the situation would be quite changed by then. Don’t you?

Kilgore: Yes, but I think that there’d be an awful lot of people who would remember. I just don’t believe I could do it [accept an appointment]. I think then I couldn’t ever convince some people that there wasn’t some sort of a quid pro quo.

Jenkins: Well—

Kilgore: And while you and I would both know that wasn’t true, I just don’t want to run the risk of living my life having people thinking it was true—

Jenkins: Well, there wouldn’t be. But . . . I’m sure that you trust us and we trust you, and there wouldn’t have to be.


Kilgore: Let me—could you tell me again what his [LBJ’s] response was?

Jenkins: [sighs] I think that he feels, and everybody we’ve talked to feels, that it would not be to your interests, or our interests, or the Democratic Party’s interests, for you to do it [run against Yarborough]. It would serve only to benefit the Republicans, and tear up our party between now and November.


Jenkins: All right, sir. I want to wish you well. And if there’s any way in the world that I personally can make it any easier for you, or any better for you, you know I want to do it. You know how we feel about you, and have always felt about you.

But we just think this would do nothing in the world. It would serve the Republican Party, and not the Democratic Party. And not just one state, but 50 states. And that it would not be to your advantage, our advantage, or the party’s advantage.


Then, just hours before the deadline, the labor leaders double-crossed the President, and Don Yarborough filed papers to challenge Connally. Johnson, furious, phoned Jim Wright to urge him to run for the Senate—making clear, repeatedly, that Wright would be taken care of with any position he wanted should he lose the primary. Under Issa’s new (and transparently absurd) conception of Watergate, this apparently counted for an impeachable offense. For anyone who knows anything about political history, this type of practice was unsurprising, and, indeed, an intrinsic part of politics.

From February, 3, 1964, just after 9pm Washington time, a few hours before the filing deadline in the Texas Democratic primary:

President Johnson: [There’s] a lot of things I can do for you. I can take care of you here if you lost. You wouldn’t be gambling anything. But . . .


Congressman Jim Wright: [laughing nervously] Here we are about, what? Four hours before the filing [deadline]—

President Johnson: Oh, less than that—two or three.

Wright: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right—two or three. Anything would have to be postmarked from here by midnight this time.


President Johnson: See, you and [Congressman] Joe [Kilgore]: now he’d [Governor John Connally] rather Joe run, ‘cause Joe’s got some money.

Wright: Sure. Yeah.

President Johnson: And I’d rather you run ‘cause you’ve got some votes. That’s the way I feel about it.

I’d rather nobody run if Don Yarborough wouldn’t run [for governor]—from the national picture. I think it’s bad to get all the labor split up, and fighting, and so forth.

But I think you have got a chance to beat [Senator Ralph] Yarborough; I don’t think Joe has. That’s my judgment; now, I may be wrong.

Wright: Yeah.

President Johnson: I think if you get on that ticket with John, and let him keep his arm in a sling [recovering from being shot in the Kennedy assassination] and keep your tongue in your mouth, I think you could go places. And I always have thought so.

I just think you just quit shaking hands and dodgin’ and dartin’ around everyplace in the country, and stay on that television every time somebody gives you a dollar.


President Johnson: Now, how much are you willing to gamble? It all? You want to come back to the House, or do you want to shoot the works if you can, with John, and if you lose [in the Senate primary], get something else?


President Johnson: I’d damn sight rather have a six-year term in the Senate than where you are. If you lost—if you lost, I’d take care of you with something else, whatever you wanted.

LBJ and Richard Daley, 2 Feb. 1968

President Johnson: This Charleston, West Virginia paper [the Daily Mail] took a poll of all the delegates [to the Democratic National Convention], and it ran about 1400 for me and Humphrey, and about 49 for McCarthy, and about 39 for Bobby.

The 39 stragglers—all of you damn fellows [delegation chairs] will put on a son of a bitch, and when you’ve got 50 states and only got 39 sons of bitches, that’s a pretty good average. We’ve got more than one bastard on our delegation, from Texas. [Daley chuckles.] But . . . I thought the poll came out pretty good.

But he [Kennedy] has got a few peaceniks up here in New York, and he’s got [Arthur] Schlesinger up at Harvard, and he has decided that it’s up to him to reclaim the Democratic Party.

Now, I’ll just tell you what will happen now: it just—beginning with me, and Hubert Humphrey, and [Texas governor] John Connally, and the rest of them—if you ever thought that they had a goddamn revolution in the party, you never would see . . . These just have been little kindergarten, play Indians until this one came along.

Richard Daley: The only thing—you know, you never make any suggestions to the President. You never—

President Johnson: Hm.

Daley: The only thing I would say to you, as a friend: don’t let them get you too excited on this—

President Johnson: They wouldn’t—they wouldn’t at all! But I just thought—

Daley: I said to this fellow in a telephone conversation, I says, “Robert, as an older man, and with great respect for the former President, don’t you do anything rash until I get a chance to talk to you.”

He said, “Well, what do you mean by that?”

I said, “Exactly what I said. Don’t be a goddamn fool. Because,” I said, “there’s a lot of people around you that just want you to stick your neck out, and want to push you out, because of their feelings against someone else.”

President Johnson: That’s right. How long ago was this?

Daley: This was last week.

LBJ and Richard Daley, 20 Mar. 1968 (four days after the New Hampshire primary)

President Johnson: He is calling everybody—he called Nebraska today—

Richard Daley: He’s getting panicky after this thing in New Hampshire.

President Johnson: Well, he did it before, Dick. Here’s what he did.

He told [Michigan senator] Phil Hart last Thursday—Thursday a week ago, last Thursday—a friend of mine heard him tell Phil Hart. Now, we didn’t get it second-hand—

Daley: Yeah.

President Johnson: —that he was going to announce as soon as New Hampshire was over with, that he had to announce and he was going to do it.

He went out to California presumably to see this Mexican who was fasting, this striker, this Cesar Chavez.

Daley: Oh, yeah.

President Johnson: And he went out to see [California House Speaker Jesse] Unruh. And Unruh was in here to see me about three weeks ago, and he wouldn’t go on our slate, because he wanted to hold Bobby’s slate. And he went out to see him this last week.

Now, he thinks that he can win California, and he thinks that McCarthy, I guess, can win Wisconsin. Now, I don’t think there’s any question but what they can win these 400 convention votes [chosen by state primaries], because I don’t see how I can get out and campaign for ‘em. I don’t see how I can . . . do that.

I think we have to take the 2600 [delegate] votes, and try to be as inactive as we can, let ‘em have the 400, get 1300 wrapped up, and then go on and try not to offend ‘em, and get in—try not to destroy the party. But . . .

I believe that the best man that I know of, outside of you, out there, in this town, who is amenable to listening to ‘em, and reasoning with Bobby—if he is subject to any reason—[is Clark Clifford]. I believe he wants something out of it, or he’s going to do it anyway, and I don’t know what we can give him.

I can’t throw Humphrey overboard. I’m not going to throw Rusk overboard, because I don’t believe it’s in the national interest. I am willing to be prudent and reasonable.


President Johnson: I think that after this big push on the cities [the aftermath of the urban riots], that we lost a lot of the sentiment in this country, because of the papers, and the television. And it’s just almost a panic thing.

In New Hampshire, I think they [the Kennedy forces] used a lot of their money. These kids were—practically every one, two-dollar-an-hour kids, from the colleges.

I talked to the governor [John King], and I talked to the senator [Thomas McIntyre], and I talked to the mayor [of Portsmouth, Ted Connors], and I talked to [state committeeman] Barney Boudin, and he said everything up there is bought and paid for, and brought in, and they never saw as much money come in from Boston.

So, I think it’s all a part of one strategy—these two [Kennedy and McCarthy]. They met today—McCarthy had a long meeting with Kennedy today.

LBJ and Walter Reuther, 20 Mar. 1968

President Johnson: The cold hard facts are we do not have control [in Vietnam], and [Eugene] McCarthy doesn’t, and Bobby doesn’t, and no one else does at this stage, unless and until they [the North Vietnamese] see that this second wave of theirs—we have their documents; we know what their plans are—is not successful.

Now, I can’t get out and promise that they’re not going to . . . There is no question but that their attitude is harder. They just do not want to talk. And I guess it’s like you [the UAW] are when you are negotiating, and you’ve got the upper hand, and they’ve got to come to you—they can’t pee a drop without you. I think that’s the position they’re [the North Vietnamese] in.

They’re being well-supported. They’re not hurting. We’re not destroying anything they’ve got. We’re not invading ‘em. We’re not trying to capture them, we’re not taking their cities, we’re not killing their civilians. When we hit a target in North Vietnam—we’re hitting damn few. Last year, we had 6½ months that we had a complete pause at both Hanoi and Haiphong.

I can’t stress those things. Because when I do, I get every hawk in the country who thinks I’m not doing enough. And they want me to take out Haiphong immediately—and when I do, I take out a Russian ship, and I got a lot more problems.

Now, when you look at these plans, there’s not much [that] anybody’s got to do. They [McCarthy and Kennedy] say they don’t want withdrawal; they say they don’t want surrender. McCarthy said he wants negotiation. Well, goddamnit, we do, too!

Walter Reuther: Surely.

President Johnson: But we have the responsibility.

Now, you’ve got to be responsible, too. And I know your [union] board will give you hell; and I get hell from all of my people all the time. But this is a period and a time—these boys can’t get this nomination. They’re not going to get it. We’re going to take these states, and they’re not going to come close to it. They’ll win some primaries, because I don’t have much time to make calls like this.


President Johnson: Now, if I can’t have fellows like you in this presidency, well, then, by God, they can take Nixon, or somebody else. But I just got to have you stand up when the going’s tough. Because when you got your back to the wall, I come to you, and I stand there. And when you got your strikes on, by God, you know that you’ve got a friend.

And I want you to tell the [Emil] Mayzes and the rest of ‘em that I’m no goddamn fascist. I’m trying to settle this thing. I’ll take anybody’s suggestion—if you’ve got a plan, anybody that wants it considered, we’ll sure get it in. But I can’t force this man [the North Vietnamese leadership] to talk to me and agree.


President Johnson: And of course they’re concerned about the war, and I am, too. Both daughters—both husbands are going out. One of them’s going to Hue and the other’s going to Da Nang. Right there in the middle of it. God knows, I’m more concerned than anybody.

I’ve got everybody in the country talking to me. I’ve got [Edwin] Reischauer in for two hours two weeks ago. I’ve got Tommy Thomspon writing me memos. I’ve got every human being.

Reuther: Sure.

President Johnson: But this is something that—Roosevelt couldn’t end the war with Hitler, by God, just on a chosen day, and I can’t end it, either.

Now, I’m not spreading it. I’ve been fighting it out there for four long years without involving China and Russia. And that’s some little feat in itself. And without invading North Vietnam, or Cambodia.

But if I have to play those rules, and play it safe, I can’t wipe ‘em out that quick.

Reuther: Sure.

President Johnson: If I was bloodthirsty and went in and took Hanoi and Haiphong and just flattened them out, I think that we could bring North Vietnam to their knees mighty damn quick. We might also bring Moscow to their knees, and they’d come in with us.

So that’s my problem.

Now, I want you to st about encouraging somebody else. Mayze is going out here and making these public and up and bear with me, and tell this board to cut this monkey business out of talking statements.

LBJ and Richard Daley, 2 Apr. 1968 (two days after the President announced his withdrawal)

President Johnson: The labor people and certain of the Negro groups are already calling and just raising unshirted hell—[AFL-CIO head George] Meany, and others—saying that Humphrey’s got to announce, and ought to announce immediately, and that they think that it’s outrageous I didn’t endorse him, and so forth.

I told ‘em I just didn’t think—I was trying my damndest to get peace. [Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bill] Fulbright and some of these boys play the Commie line, just do everything they can to keep you from it, and I didn’t think I ought to get involved in the thing [the nominating race], that I was going to see both of ‘em [Humphrey and Kennedy].

Now, when they come in this morning, what should I do besides sit there and listen to ‘em?

Richard Daley: I think that’s all I’d do.

President Johnson: Mm. Well, that’s what—that’s my reaction.

LBJ and Mayor Daley


LBJ and Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen, discussing reports of Nixon operatives negotiating behind the scenes with the S. Vietnamese government to discourage a pre-election peace settlement.

President Johnson: Now, I’m reading their hand, Everett. I don’t want to get this in the campaign.

Everett Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: And they oughtn’t to be doing this. This is treason.

Dirksen: I know.


President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] Now, I can identify ‘em, because I know who’s doing this. I don’t want to identify it. I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important.

I don’t want to do that. But if they’re going to put this kind of stuff out, they ought to know that we know what they’re doing. I know who they’re talking to, and I know what they’re saying.

Well, now, what do you think we ought to do about it?

Dirksen: Well, I better get in touch with him [Nixon], I think, and tell him about it.

President Johnson: I think you better tell him that his people are saying to these folks that they oughtn’t to go through with this meeting [in Paris]. Now, if they don’t go through with the meeting, it’s not going to be me that’s hurt. I think it’s going to be whoever’s elected.

Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: It may be—my guess—him.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And I think they’re making a very serious mistake. And I don’t want to say this.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And you’re the only one I’m going to say it to.

Dirksen: Yeah.


President Johnson: Well, I don’t know who it is that’s with Nixon. It may be [Wisconsin congressman Mel] Laird. It may be [aide Bryce] Harlow. It may be [campaign manager John] Mitchell. I don’t know who it is.

I know this: that they’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war.

Dirksen: That’s a mistake!

President Johnson: And it’s a damn bad mistake.

Dirksen: Oh, it is.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] Now, I don’t want to say you, and you’re the only man that I have enough confidence in to tell ‘em. But you better tell ‘em they better quit playing with it. You just tell ‘em that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it.

Nixon and White House aide Bob Haldeman, after the 1972 election, discussing whether the “hardhat” voters can be permanently wooed to the GOP.

Bob Haldeman:  And [Labor Secretary-designate Peter] Brennan has gotten the damndest press reaction, Mr. President, and the damndest fan mail . . .

President Nixon:  Is that right?

Haldeman: Oh, it’s incredible. You mean, letters—he brought in some of ‘em to me. There’s letters from people saying, “Well, we weren’t really sure—we voted for Nixon, we weren’t really sure. But now we are. He does believe in the working man, and he’s . . .” You know, I think this has really had a . . .

President Nixon:  You mean, the idea, they finally think–the appointment of a working man makes ‘em think we’re for the working man, isn’t that it?

Haldeman: Yeah. That’s precisely it.

President Nixon:  You talk about all the tokenism. We appoint blacks and they don’t think you’re for blacks.

Haldeman: No! Exactly.

President Nixon:   And [you appoint] Mexicans, they don’t think you’re for Mexicans. But a working man, by golly, that is really something.

Haldeman: Well, this kind of locks it up, you know. [Break.] So I don’t think—

President Nixon:  Great.

Haldeman: I really don’t care who the hell they—

President Nixon:  Yeah. Great.

Haldeman: —they put in as the [Democratic] party chairman, the fundamental dichotomy, or the fundamental cleavage, within the Democratic Party is such that, with what you’re doing to build the new majority, and what I hope to help you doing, I think we’re going to keep them split, and . . .

President Nixon:  Mm-hmm.

Haldeman: I’m awful bullish about what we can do in this country in terms of the basic philosophies, or the basic—

President Nixon:  Right.

Haldeman: —choices of the people. They may not ever become Republicans, but they’re Nixon’s.

President Nixon:  Yeah.

Haldeman: If there’s some way to perpetuate that, I don’t know.

President Nixon:  We could change the name of the party—

Haldeman: Great stuff.

President Nixon:  —Yeah.

Haldeman: Great stuff.

President Nixon:  Yeah.


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