I agree — I think LBJ would have won in ‘68 if he had run. First of all, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, of all people, almost pulled off the victory over Richard Nixon in 1968. Humphrey lost the popular vote by a margin of just over 500,000 votes — in an election where George Wallace won nearly 10 million votes. Despite his Civil Rights accomplishments, I think Johnson would have neutralized Wallace in some of those Southern states. In fact, it’s very possible that a heavyweight like LBJ in the race would have kept George Wallace from launching a bid as serious as he actually did in 1968. Wallace won 46 Electoral votes (all of them being states of the Deep South) and I don’t think that would have happened with LBJ in the race.
Wallace was a big factor in the race, but another big factor was the battle for the Democratic nomination and the turbulence surrounding the primaries, RFK’s assassination, and the battles between Chicago police and anti-war protesters outside of the Democratic National Convention. If LBJ had been the candidate, there would have been no primary fight, and the DNC would have been much more disciplined. There definitely still would have been anti-war protests, but instead of seeming to add to the chaos of the Democrats’ nomination process, it would have come across differently.
And the biggest difference would have been the difference between Lyndon Baines Johnson on the campaign trail and Hubert H. Humphrey on the campaign trail. On television, LBJ often came across wooden and uninspiring, but he was something altogether different while campaigning. More importantly, LBJ wouldn’t have rolled over and just let Nixon get away with any Nixonian dirty tricks. LBJ could play just as dirty, and he would have if it meant the difference between four more years and a forced retirement. LBJ was the incumbent President of the United States and the head of the Democratic Party; he controlled the party apparatus would have known who to use the power of his office and his power of the Democratic Party to propel him to victory if it was kept close.
It definitely would have been closer than the 1964 election; LBJ wouldn’t have cruised to a landslide over Nixon in 1968 like he did over Barry Goldwater four years earlier, but I do think LBJ would have beat Nixon. In the election that we did get — a three-way race between Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace — the Electoral College results were Nixon 301, Humphrey 191, Wallace 46 (270 votes needed to win). Nixon won the popular vote in 1968 over Humphrey by only a few hundred thousand more votes than Kennedy beat him in 1960 (one of the narrowest victories in American history) and George Wallace claimed 9.9 million votes. As I said, in my opinion, if LBJ had run in ‘68, Wallace either wouldn’t have run or he wouldn’t have been able to get ballot access in all 50 states. Either way, he wouldn’t have won 9.9 million votes and I don’t think he would have won any of the five states that he did actually win in ‘68 (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi). LBJ would have built a powerful voter registration and get out the vote organization in those Southern states with large African-American populations whose right to vote was signed into law and protected three years earlier by LBJ. I think that those new voters, in addition to the Democrats who remained Democratic voters in the South despite LBJ’s Civil Rights policy, would have put those states in the Democratic column. Wallace also won one of North Carolina’s 13 Electoral votes in ‘68.
If it was just LBJ vs. Nixon, I think LBJ would have won all of the states that Humphrey won (Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia) as well as the states that Wallace won (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi). I also think that LBJ would have won 11 of the 32 states that Nixon won majorities in over Humphrey (Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia). In many of the 32 states that Nixon won in the actual 1968 election, his margin of victory was slim and Wallace’s removal from the equation likely would have swung more votes into the Democratic column than the Republican, resulting in a swing of those 11 states. The popular vote margin would still be pretty close, but LBJ would win majorities in most of the major states (those with the most Electoral College votes). In a straight LBJ vs. Nixon matchup in 1968, I think the Electoral College result would be: LBJ 381, Nixon 157.
And, yes, this question motivated me to actually go back and re-figure the 1968 Presidential election’s Electoral College map state-by-state. Don’t say I never did anything for you guys.
37th President of the United States (1969-1974)
Full Name: Richard Milhous Nixon
Born: January 9, 1913, Yorba Linda, California
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: New York (1st term: Nixon was practicing law and living in New York when he was elected in 1968) and California (2nd term: Changed his official residency back to California during his Presidency)
Term: January 20, 1969-August 9, 1974 (Resigned)
Age at Inauguration: 56 years, 11 days
Administration: 46th and 47th
Congresses: 91st, 92nd, and 93rd
Vice Presidents: Spiro Agnew (1969-1973; Resigned) and Richard Nixon (1973-1974; Assumed the Presidency upon Nixon’s resignation)
Died: April 22, 1994, New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, New York City, New York
Age at Death: 81 years, 104 days
Buried: Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, California
2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 24 of 24 [↔]
It’s impossible to rank Nixon without considering Watergate. The crime and the cover-up brought down his Presidency, ended his political career, and changed the power of the Presidency for years. It also robbed the world of one of the most brilliant minds when it came to foreign policy. That untapped potential — like the political brilliance of Bill Clinton that was hindered due to the Lewinsky scandal — is one of the most disappointing aspects of Nixon’s legacy. If Watergate could be wiped from the record and Nixon had been able to complete his second term, he’d undoubtedly be much higher up in the rankings because he did have major accomplishments and he significantly expanded the power of the Presidency. Unfortunately for Richard Nixon, his legacy is dominated by his scandals, and the very manner in which he used the office of the Presidency which he had so greatly expanded resulted in his successors being handcuffed by severely diminished Presidential power in order to limit the chance of the same excesses seen in the Nixon Administration.
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: Not Ranked
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: 34 of 38
1990: Siena Institute: 25 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 36 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 25 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 20 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 32 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 27 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 30 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 23 of 40
I’d have to say that the Nixon Administration was the most corrupt Presidential Administration in American history. Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding both had their reputations tainted by scandals during their Administration, but that was mainly due to the fact that they were poor judges of character when it came to their political appointments. Grant wasn’t personally corrupt, and while Harding’s many infidelities (and active efforts to keep those matters private) were wrong, he wasn’t personally responsible for the scandals that took place while he was President. That shouldn’t excuse either Grant or Harding — they were either naive and too trustworthy of shady characters and friends, or they were too ignorant about the opportunities for corruption and criminality that they were providing to those shady characters and friends. That’s why Grant and Harding are almost universally ranked amongst the worst Presidents in history.
Richard Nixon, however, can’t claim that he just hired some crappy officials. He did that, too, but he was also deeply involved in scandalous activities and then allowed his Presidency to be dominated by his efforts at covering up his Administration’s scandals. Watergate, of course, is the centerpiece of the Nixon Administration’s scandals, but there were shady things happening as he was running for President in 1968. As Election Day approached in 1968, Nixon’s opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, was closing the gap between the two of them and making Nixon worry that ‘68 might be a repeat of Nixon’s razor-thin loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960. When it appeared that negotiations to end the Vietnam War were coming close to being a reality, Nixon used secret contacts to inform the South Vietnamese that if they stopped negotiating with LBJ and held out until after the election, Nixon would give them a better deal than President Johnson would. This happened just days before Election Day — an “October Surprise” — and probably ensured a Nixon victory. LBJ found out what Nixon and his aides were doing, but he decided against exposing Nixon even though he said privately that Nixon had “blood on his hands” and was committing “treason”.
All that happened before Nixon was even ELECTED, so being privately accused of treason by the President of the United States was probably not the best signal that the country was embarking upon a golden era of the Presidency. The details of the Watergate scandal are well-known, so I won’t rehash them, but Nixon’s direct involvement and the fact that several high-ranking members of Nixon’s Administration tied to the Watergate break-in and cover-up ended up in prison definitely puts him at the top of the list, in my opinion.
There are also other reasons why Nixon belongs at the top of the list of most corrupt Administrations. Nixon, of course, didn’t start the Vietnam War, but the bombings and incursions of Cambodia and Laos were and are controversial escalations of the conflict. There was also the “Enemies List” and other abuses of power, like directing the IRS, CIA, and FBI to go after his opponents (to be fair, Nixon wasn’t the first President to do that, either, but it was still wrong) or simply target them for harassment via a domestic surveillance apparatus that was used solely for political purposes. The Saturday Night Massacre was part of the Watergate scandal, but if that happened today, the cable news networks would explode. I mean, imagine if President Obama appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether something illegal involved in the release of Bowe Bergdahl and then just fired him when it seemed that the direction was going in a direction that he didn’t like. That’s what happened in the Saturday Night Massacre, but worse — Nixon ordered the Attorney General to fire the special prosecutor, but the Attorney General refused, so Nixon fired the special prosecutor himself and then fired the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. If that happened now, it would break the internet.
The scandals of the Grant and Harding Administrations resulted in a few officials going to prison. Nixon’s scandals resulted in the indictments of nearly 100 Administration officials (mainly due to Watergate) and legal actions against many organizations and corporations (largely related to illegal contributions and violations of campaign finance laws). Indicted officials from Nixon’s Administration included Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had to resign in disgrace after striking a plea deal to avoid prison on bribery charges, Treasury Secretary John Connally (the same John Connally who was shot when JFK was assassinated), Attorney General John Mitchell (spent nearly two years in prison), Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst (yes, two of the people appointed by Nixon to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer were convicted of criminal charges and Nixon fired another AG for not helping him out during the Watergate battle), Commerce Secretary Maurice H. Stans, White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman (spent 18 months in prison), and numerous other high-ranking White House aides, many of whom spent time in prison, paid large fines, or both.
President Nixon probably would have ended up being indicted himself if President Ford had not pardoned him. His reputation took a hit and history will never judge him without including the word “Watergate” in the first paragraph, but in many ways he was lucky because he avoided the massive legal fees and threat of imprisonment that he could have faced without a pardon. And Nixon was lucky in other ways, too. There have always been questions about whether Nixon avoided paying taxes that he might have owed because some of his income tax returns seemed fuzzy to a lot of people. Nixon was also accused of ordering “security improvements” at his homes that were paid for and constructed by the government and either unnecessary, improper or flat-out illegal. Eventually, Nixon reimbursed the government for the expenditures at his homes in San Clemente, California and Key Biscayne, Florida, but there were even questions about how he obtained his homes.
Since this has been an attempt at giving a quick rundown of the Nixon Administration’s scandals instead of a definitive history, you can probably see why I think his Presidency was the most corrupt. It’s frustrating to imagine how good of a President that Nixon might be remembered as without any of these scandals because even with them, he’s still not at the very bottom of the list. He did accomplish some very important things and he was incredibly capable, so it’s really a shame that it’s impossible to look at Nixon without seeing that giant stain that he stamped on his own legacy.
Richard Nixon, on George H.W. Bush, 1972.
In 1970, President Nixon convinced then-Congressman Bush to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate from Texas even though Bush had to risk his spot in the House to campaign for the Senate. Nixon promised Bush that he’d find a place for him in his Administration if he lost, which he did.
After Bush’s unsuccessful bid, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, serving from 1971 to 1973. His last post in Nixon’s Administration was what he called “a political nightmare” — he served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1973-1974, during the worst part of the Watergate scandal. Bush defended Nixon for months and genuinely believed that Nixon was innocent because that’s what the President told him. When he found out the truth, Bush felt more betrayed than he ever had in his life. He wrote an official letter to the President urging him to resign shortly before Nixon stepped down and a private, much more private letter to his children expressing his deep disappointment and anger at the President.
Richard Nixon, on Ronald Reagan possibly appearing as a witness before the House Labor Committee, after meeting Reagan for the first time in 1947.
Early in life, Reagan was what he would later call a “hopeless” liberal and a major supporter of Harry Truman. In 1950, Reagan campaigned in California for Democratic Congresswoman (and fellow actor) Helen Gahagan Douglas in her race for the United States Senate against Nixon.