Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by ColeMercury, Apr 7, 2007.
What if Robert Kennedy wasn't assassinated, and was elected president in 1968?
It seems to me he wouldn't be a shoo-in for the nomination in the first place: Humphrey had a pretty strong organization going, which might have meant the first multiple-ballot convention for the Democrats in quite a few years.
Probably there would have had to have been some sort of Humphrey/Kennedy rapprochement at the convention to avoid a deadlock. It's hard to say who would have had more delegates going in since all of Kennedy's were released in OTL but it's not out of the question that due to his quasi-incumbency Humphrey might have had a plurality. Going out on a limb and assuming that, could be some sort of understanding would have been reached, e.g., Kennedy throws his support to Humphrey in return for being named Secretary of State. Naturally there would be nothing in writing...
Now, turn the tables and say Kennedy has something of a boom: if that happens, Humphrey doesn't have too many cards to play (can't see him stepping down to a cabinet post or continuing as VP), so he might organize a stop-Kennedy move. That could lead to a deadlock and a third/dark horse candidacy.
Setting that aside, let's assume Kennedy did get the nomination: guessing that the Democrats would lose significant fractions of their moderate and conservative support to Nixon and Wallace. That suggests that, in combination with the Kennedy name, the electorate might have split sufficiently to put the election into the House for the first time since the 1820s. If that happened, Kennedy would win but I question how much cooperation he might get from the minority members of Congress: not a few would see that as winning on something approaching a technicality.
It's popular to say Kennedy would have disengaged from Viet Nam quickly. Would he? He was steeped in the same Cold Warrior ambience as his older brother so it seems that's open to question. He would have had to do something fast along those lines, though, or his support would have eroded (popular opinion might go "hey, man...you said you were getting us out of 'Nam...what about that? You let us down..."). He won't have an easy time of it. Also, delay opening relations with China: correctly or otherwise that would have been perceived as a form of appeasement, even in '72 (in OTL, it was widely viewed that only Nixon could have pulled that off successfully). That door would probably have waited to open for Kennedy's successor. Detente....not sure that would have gone very far given no Henry Kissinger. In space, the Apollo program would probably have gone as it did in OTL, and maybe have been extended in his brother's memory.
Nixon's done, though: no more comebacks, no try for the governorship or a Senate seat, nothing. He's strictly emeritus from here on out.
Assuming Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated, assuming also he lives out a normal lifespan. In 2007 he would be 82 years old, so there's a good chance he would still be living.
Anyway, about the 1968 election. I doubt Robert Kennedy would have gotten elected. There would probably have been a power struggle between Humphrey and Kennedy at the Democratic Convention and it would have been very very nasty. In OTL the 1968 Democratic Convention was very nasty as it was. That was the year a number of delegates pelted each other with ice cubes, and there were protests both inside and outside the convention hall that all but turned into riots. The Democrats at their 1968 Convention looked very disorganized and looked and were fractured and it hurt them a lot.
Add Robert Kennedy to the mixture and it gets even worse. Neither Kennedy or Humphrey would have accepted the Vice Presidential slot on the ticket, or a cabinet post. So no deal between Kennedy and Humphrey. If Kennedy got the nomination it would have also made the Democrats look bad, a sitting VP who is running for President and the party doesn't give him the nomination.
In that atmosphere, if Humphrey got the nomination a lot of Kennedy supporters would not have supported him. Most of them wouldn't vote for Nixon either. Result: A number of Kennedy supporters would have stayed home and not voted, In TTL Nixon wins and would probably have a larger victory than in OTL.
Kennedy gets the nomination. Many Humphrey supporters would not have voted for Kennedy. Kennedy was or was viewed by many as being more liberal than Humphrey, so some Humphrey supporters in TTL migh have voted for Nixon. Result: Again Nixon wins probably by about the same margin as in OTL. Winning over Robert Kennedy in 1968 would have been a sweeter victory for Nixon, winning over the brother of the man who beat him in 1960.
Bottom line: Because of other problems in The Democratic Party, there was a lot more to The Democrats losing the 1968 Presidential election than the fact that Bobby Kennedy wasn't there and wasn't their nominee. With Kennedy in that mixture it potentially could have fractured the Democratic Party enough that The Republicans might have had control of both houses of Congress at least during Nixon's first term.
OK, so RFK gets elected.
Step 1: the first inaugural address to center around a George Bernard Shaw line. The United States could have used a man in 1968 who really meant it when he said, "There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"
Interesting thread! I was very moved by watching the progress of Kennedy's funeral train across the country, and Teddy's speech at the graveside. I was nearly 15 when this happened and just starting to pay attention to what was happening in the world.
I remember reading, just before the assasination, in Look magazine a story that could have appeared on this site. I don't remember the name of the story or the author, but I was struck at how it all played out. LBJ decided to run in 1968 after all, but was compelled by the party to take Bobby Kennedy as his running mate. The election, as has been theorized elsewhere in these posts, went to the House of Representatives, and, yes, each state votes as a unit. I don't remember who the GOP nominee was, but the presidential candidates were deadlocked, 25-25 in the House. The Senate, since the Vice President is their presiding officer, votes "one man, one vote". Kennedy was elected over the GOP candidate, and since he was Vice President in a government without a President to take office on January 20, 1969, Kennedy took the oath as President. Also, as I remember it, Kennedy did very little to clear the deadlock in the House. As LBJ cleaned out his desk, he told Bobby something like "I expected better from you - you don't have the integrity your brother had". (I'm sure, coming from LBJ, it would have been something unprintable). I suppose I could find that, if I went to a library that actually had the originals of that magazine. This story, along with my interest in science fiction, got me onto these historical "What if"s.
Thanks for your patience - my first post here!
Did Robert also have Addison's disease? If not, could he get it? Otherwise, he could very well be alive - after all, Ted Kennedy's also still around.
The problem for the Democratic Party of 1968 was the convention. Oh lots of other things to be sure (McGovern's rules committee for one, but that wouldn't matter until '72) but America watched the streets burn in Chicago.
Say RFK doesn't get killed, which is easy. Opinion is divided of course. Theodore H. White (Making of the President, 1968) doesn't like what ifs but says maybe. Jules Witcover (85 Days) says probably. Joe Klein (Politics Lost) says Kennedy would have won at the convention. Plenty of others say no.
So. It would have been pretty nasty I admit but I could see RFK winning. The general, on the other hand, would be a bitch. Could he win? Maybe. Nixon has the edge, to be sure, but RFK has the name and… well, honesty.
That's the thing I take away from reading about RFK. The man got the problems. He understood them, domestically, in a way Nixon never did and whether or not his ideas would have worked he had them. Spoke truthfully about them.
Nixon won in 1968 but it wasn't fordained. Humphrey's campaign sucked and Nixon's was excellent. RFK was on the ground floor of JFK's brilliant 1960 campaign (including primaries) and he would have understood it far better then Humphrey ever did.
Campaigns matter. So I could see RFK beating Nixon. It wouldn't have been easy, certainly, and it would have required a convention that didn't end in fire but it could have happened.
From Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s Robert Kennedy and His Times:
Richard Harwood of the Washington Post and other newspapermen began to change their minds about the clamorous crowds. Maybe there was something more to it than demagoguery. "We discovered in 1968," Harwood said later, "this deep, almost mystical bond that existed between Robert Kennedy and the Other America. It was a disquieting experience for reporters.... We were forced to recognize in Watts and Gary and Chimney Rock [Nebraska] that the real stake in the American electoral process involved not the fate of speech-writers and fund-raisers but the lives of millions of people seeking hope out of despair."
So. That said I believe RFK could win. It's not the most probable result or anything, Nixon was a disciplined and formidable man who had arguably the best campaign team ever assembled up to that point, but it could be done.
Anyway. Other people's options are here and here and here and elsewhere, I'm sure.
Quick update. I now have Mitchell Freedman's 30 page essay on Bobby winning the 1968 nomination and the general. If anyone is interested PM me your email and I'm happy to send it along. 50 cents at amazon.com so I couldn't pass it up.
For Robert Kennedy to be elected President I think you have to do three things.
1. Obviously Bobby Kennedy is not assassinated, probable lives a normal lifespan. In answer to a question someone asked here, Robert Kennedy didn't have Addison's disease he was completely healthy. Born in 1925 he was 5 years older than Teddy, so in 2007 he would be 82 and probably still living. Their mother Rose Kennedy lived to the age I think of 102, so they had the genes for long life.
2. Hubert Humphrey does not run for President in 1968, Humphrey supports Robert Kennedy. Perhaps Humphrey decided he really enjoys being Vice President and agrees to be Kennedy's running mate. Note: Humphrey had only served one term as Vice President, and there is nothing in The Constitution limiting a Vice President to only 2 terms as VP.
3. Give The Democrats a much more civilized 1968 convention than the one they had in OTL. The 1968 Democratic Convention was about the most uncivilized in history, and it was all played out on national TV, including angry delegates throwing ice cubes at each other. Then there were the riots outside. It all hurt The Democrats a lot. Also, hold the 1968 Democratic Convention somewhere other than Chicago.
I wouldn't say this makes Bobby Kennedy a sure bet to win The Presidency in 1968, it just makes it possible.
As Electric Monk said, Richard Nixon was a very disciplined and formidible man. Say what you will about Richard Nixon, there are two things you have to give him.
1. Nixon knew and understood the game of politics better than anyone else, and he played it like a seasoned pro. That and his own personality is what made Nixon such a disciplined and formidible politician. It also made him a very tough opponant.
2. Nixon knew and understood Communism and The Communist better than anyone else. He took the same disciplined approach with them that he took with everything else. Nixon dealt with Communism and Communists realistically as they really were not as he wanted them to be. He was an old line American Cold War Warrior, and very effective dealing with Communist leaders.
All in all, Nixon would still have been an extremely tough opponant for Bobby Kennedy to run against and win.
Given the premise that RFK lives and wins the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1968, who does he select as his running mate? Former Tennessee Governor Frank Clement was a photogenic charismatic vote getter who was on the right side of Civil Rights when most of the old line southern Democrats were still against equal rights for blacks.
Some have suggested Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas, which I dont see happening due to Yarborough's closeness with LBJ. McCarthy? Nope, not a dual Catholic ticket. Humphrey obviously wouldnt agree to continue as VP under Kennedy. Perhaps Senator Frank Church of Idaho, a liberal's liberal.
But I think Clement would get the nod
I agree with the rest so I'll single this out. Humphrey had a little under a thousand delegates and was not competing in any more primary contests at the time RFK was killed. RFK wins California and most likely New York as well as 4 out of 5 of the other remaining primaries (as seemed likely) then McCarthy has been slammed to the curb with 200 odd delegates and no momentum. At the same time Humphrey hasn't fought a primary contest in months and the press spins this as a horse race.
I think RFK has a 50/50 or better shot of taking down Humphrey as long as Mayor Daley comes on board as he very likely would.
At this point in time Humphrey was pro-war and was therefore completely and utterly unacceptable to the anti-war faction so no VP ticket for him. Nor would Humphrey help in the national campaign RFK would have run.
Remember also that Humphrey was the establishment candidate pushed into the race when Johnson pulled out and it became (for a brief period) McCarthy versus RFK. He was not really ready or expecting to run for President and Johnson kept him on a tight lease (Johnson had fantasies about a deadlocked convention and a Draft Johnson movement) which also hurt him.
I'll steal a few quotes from that essay I mentioned above:
Somehow it's no wonder that people believe there was a conspiracy behind the assassination(s). Two Kennedys shot in the same decade? All coincidence?
Believe it or not,yes.
Separate names with a comma.