Lai’s example: LBJ???

One of the objections to William Lai’s challenge to President Tsai is that if he defeats her, she will be a lame duck for the remaining thirteen months of her presidency. Some worry that the resulting power vacuum would create a constitutional crisis. Yesterday on his Facebook page, Lai tried to refute this argument by pointing to the example of Lyndon Johnson (LBJ). In 1968, LBJ decided not to run for re-election, and Lai argued that this did not create any constitutional crisis.

This is a bad, bad argument. Only someone who knows nothing about 1968 would point to Johnson’s case as an example of a smooth transition of power.

LBJ did plan to run for re-election. Initially, most people expected him to win, even though he was fighting the unpopular Vietnam War. He was challenged for the nomination by Senator Eugene McCarthy, an opponent of the war who was not considered a major challenger. LBJ beat McCarthy in the March 1968 New Hampshire primary, but only by a 49-41% margin. Seeing LBJ’s weakness, Robert Kennedy announced he would also contest the nomination. LBJ responded by announcing that he would not run for re-election. Instead, he would focus all his energy on the war, which he hoped to win before the election.

By announcing that he would not run for re-election, LBJ avoided being defeated. He did not lose power to a rival nominee. In fact, LBJ eventually arranged for the nomination to go to his chosen successor, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. There was no power vacuum because LBJ did not lose control of the Democratic Party.

Lai argues that there was no problem in 1968. In fact, 1968 was one of the most turbulent and chaotic years in American history. There were anti-war protests all year. In April, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated. In response, there were race riots in several major cities, including Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. These were violent events, with widespread burning and looting and numerous deaths. In June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. There were more riots outside the Democratic party convention in August, where Humphrey was nominated. Maybe there wasn’t a constitutional crisis, but there were plenty of political and social crises.

Finally, 1968 was a disaster for the Democratic Party. After fighting among themselves during the nomination battle, they continued fighting at the national convention. Everyone could clearly see that the Democrats were not united. The Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, used this chaos to his advantage. He ran promising to restore law and order to a country that seemed out of control. Even though far more voters claimed to be Democrats than Republicans, Nixon was able to win a narrow victory. Eugene McCarthy’s challenge to LBJ ended with President Nixon. Is this the model that Lai wants to follow?

In fact, there are no examples in American history of a candidate successfully challenging an incumbent from his own party and then going on to win the general election. In fact, in the last century, every time an incumbent has faced a primary challenge, the other party has won the election. Divided parties lose power.


4 Responses to “Lai’s example: LBJ???”

  1. Shelley E Rigger Says:

    Brilliant! Thank you!

  2. Julian Baum Says:

    This could usefully be published in Liberty Times to reach a wider audience. Its vital, timely…and urgent. Julian

  3. jaichind Says:

    If I recall correctly LBJ even tried to, as late as the 1968 Chicago Dem convention, tried to work behind the scenes to snatch the nomination back from Humphrey.

    Lai is much better using the example of the 1856 Democratic National Convention where sitting Prez Pierce was defeated by Buchanan on the convention floor who went on to win the 1856 general election over the GOP and the Know Nothing-Americans.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Wow! That’s a really obscure case that I didn’t know about!
      The 1856 example isn’t great for Lai, though. (1) The challenge took place at the convention rather than in a primary, so it was much later in the calendar year. (2) Buchanan is widely considered to be the worst president in American history. Maybe Lai doesn’t want to claim he can follow the model of the president who bumblingly led the United States into civil war and nearly destroyed the country.

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