Newly released tapes from the Johnson White House reveal that Lyndon Johnson’s response to the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention were to congratulate Mayor Richard J. Daley for his handling of the demonstrators -- and try to snatch the nomination back from his vice president, Hubert Humphrey.
In March of that year, Johnson had told the nation, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.” The president felt his leadership had divided the nation, and he wanted to complete his term without the distraction of partisan politics. But after watching the riots on TV from the LBJ Ranch in Texas, Johnson had second thoughts. In his cunning, Johnsonian way, he began plotting to fly to Chicago and seize the nomination. The key was persuading Daley, who had enough influence among the delegates inside the International Amphitheater to swing the convention to Johnson.
“I would tell Daley that’s what we want to do and that’s what we plan to do and that’s what you’re going to recommend doing and you believe if you tell me that he wants me and you want me and both of you say there’s no danger and both of you say there’ll be a hell of a demonstration for me, you believe I’ll do it,” Johnson told an aide.
The president feared the convention delegates were about to reject his war policy and his chosen successor, Hubert Humphrey.
So he placed a series of calls to his staff at the convention to outline an astonishing plan. He planned to leave Texas and fly into Chicago.
He would then enter the convention and announce he was putting his name forward as a candidate for a second term.
It would have transformed the 1968 election. His advisers were sworn to secrecy and even Lady Bird did not know what her husband was considering.
On the White House tapes we learn that Johnson wanted to know from Daley how many delegates would support his candidacy. LBJ only wanted to get back into the race if Daley could guarantee the party would fall in line behind him.
They also discussed whether the president's helicopter, Marine One, could land on top of the Hilton Hotel to avoid the anti-war protesters.
Daley assured him enough delegates would support his nomination but the plan was shelved after the Secret Service warned the president they could not guarantee his safety.
Daley had played a large role in putting the previous president, John F. Kennedy, in office. Although Daley was personally opposed to the Vietnam War, he wasn’t going to miss a chance to do a favor that would put another president in his pocket.