Fending off challenges from California governor Ronald W. Reagan on his right and New York governor Nelson A. Rockefeller on his left, former vice president Richard M. Nixon had secured his second Republican presidential nomination at the party’s convention in the early morning hours of 8 August 1968. President Johnson calls with congratulations and an offer.
Hello, Mr. President.
How are you?
Well, I'm just fine. I haven't had any sleep, but you know how that is.
I sure do and I give you my congratulations and my sympathy.
[laughing] Boy, I’ll tell you, isn't that the truth.
Dick, I want to keep in close touch with you along the line we did—
—in our last talk, and I want to try to play this thing as much in the national interest as is humanly possible, and as fair as possible. And I have just one purpose and that is the best interests of the country, and I believe that your conduct has been very responsible.
There are some developments that have not changed the picture, but that I think you would do well to know about. I don't want to influence any [of] your decisions. I wouldn't change anything that I have seen that you've done. If I were in the same position, I would have pretty much followed the course of action, which I understand. I haven't read everything, but I'm away from the picture, but—
You meant my statement on Vietnam.
I—we—it was pretty responsible, I thought.
We're holding the line [unclear].
I had this thought. [Cyrus R.] Vance is here.[note 1] Cyrus R. Vance was secretary of the Army from 1962 to 1963, deputy secretary of defense from 1964 to 1967, special representative of the president to Cyprus in 1967 and to Korea in 1968, and a U.S. negotiator at the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. W. Averell Harriman was an ambassador-at-large and chief U.S. delegate to the Paris Peace Talks under President Lyndon B. Johnson. He is going to be going back to Paris. I don't know what your plans or [Spiro T. “Ted”] Agnew's are.[note 2] Spiro T. “Ted” Agnew was Nixon’s running mate and served as vice president from January 1969 to October 1973. [Hubert H.] Humphrey is coming here tomorrow.[note 3] Hubert H. Humphrey was LBJ’s vice president from January 1965 to January 1969 and in the weeks following this conversation won the Democratic presidential nomination. Humphrey was also a U.S. senator from January 1949 to January 1965 and again from January 1971 to January 1978. He's campaigning in Texas. [Eugene J.] McCarthy’s in Houston [Nixon acknowledges], and Humphrey is in Corpus Christi.[note 4] Eugene J. McCarthy [D-Minnesota] was a U.S. senator from January 1959 to January 1971 and a Democratic presidential candidate in 1968. He's coming by on his way to Corpus, and I'm going to bring him up to date with what has happened, and there have been some things happened, additional outlets, since we talked.
I thought I ought to say to you at the same time that if either or both of you were interested, that I would consider—I had not planned to do this with him—but I would consider bringing Vance down here if you went from Miami to California any time in the next two or three days before he has to go back.[note 5] The Republican National Convention was being held in Miami, Florida.
And I would bring Vance and [Dean] Rusk here and I would meet with you or whoever you wanted us to and bring you up to date on what's happened.[note 6] Dean Rusk was secretary of state from 1961 to 1969.
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Well, that—
It is not the thing that you are—that you raised the question about.
The pause.[note 7] Nixon refers to the proposed halt to the aerial and sea bombardment of North Vietnam as a “pause,” a term used to describe previous, temporary bombing cessations.
It goes in the opposite direction.
But it's something that I think that would be well for you to know [Nixon acknowledges], and I would say that there's great pressures that you ought to know about, which, in the light of my own views, I’m not going to succumb to.
But I think that in an hour or an hour-and-a-half [Nixon acknowledges throughout], that it would be good. If I were in your place, I would want [Dwight D.] Eisenhower, or you, or somebody in a similar place to discuss it with me.[note 8] Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States from 1953 to 1961. And my position’s going to be—try to—I'm going to exercise responsibility up until somebody says, "So help me God."[note 9] In other words, the President alone would decide whether to halt the bombing until his successor took the oath of office. But until that moment happens, I'm going to try to keep in touch with both leaders and see that they have it 50-50.
I appreciate it very much. Now, let me ask this. We've got the [Republican] National Committee meeting tomorrow. I have to do that [President Johnson acknowledges], and then I'm planning to fly to California the following day.
Why don't you—
If we could—
Why don't you land at San Antonio and let my helicopter pick you up? [Nixon acknowledges] It's 20 minutes out here.
You’ll be—that could be done, maybe, on Saturday morning?
Would that be—
Yes, sir. Yes, that’d be good.
If we were to come Saturday morning [unclear] . . . we have to be in California. We've got a—by, I guess it's 4:00, or something like that.
I haven't looked at the geography of it, but I heard you say in one of your meetings—and I talked to Rusk about it; he thought it was advisable—that you were going to San Diego. It seems to me that Austin—
That's right, we're going to San Diego Saturday.
It seems to me Austin or San Antonio would not be far out. Now, frankly, also, I’m [sic] got to go back into the hospital on Monday for further checks. [Nixon acknowledges.] I will discuss that—
—too. I don't want this call—nobody knows it [Nixon attempts to interject] except Rusk. And until you decide and lay it on . . .
Yeah. Well, let us suppose that if we could—if I could get the boys tracking on it, if we could stop on the way to California, and . . . would . . . to say . . . we could then go from San Anton—stop at San Antonio and then fly out there to—
I would think that’d be pretty much in line. I don't believe you’d lose an hour going from [Nixon acknowledges] Miami to Los Angeles.
Yeah. And then you could say that we—that you wouldn't mind having Rusk be down there?
No, no. No. What I would do, if you did that Saturday morning, [Nixon acknowledges throughout] you could say whenever you wanted to in Miami. I wouldn't say anything. But you could just say whatever you wanted to, that you’re going to stop over to meet with the President, and with Secretary Rusk, and with Mr. Vance. That you have asked to be kept fully informed, the President has offered to keep you fully informed and you have agreed, and that you've been through this week and you want to be brought up to date.
Right. Now, with whom should our people work in terms of—
Jim Jones is my secretary and he's at the ranch.[note 10] James R. Jones was a special assistant to President Johnson from 1965 to 1969; he succeeded Marvin Watson as one of the President’s appointments secretaries in 1968. He also served as a U.S. representative [D-Oklahoma] from 1973-1987, and as ambassador to Mexico from 1993 to 1997.
Yeah. The logistics of that—I see.
And what we would do, we have a helicopter [Nixon attempts to interject] that holds 16 people [Nixon acknowledges], or a JetStar that holds about 13, and a JetStar from the San Antonio airport to my airport’s 15 minutes.[note 11] The Lockheed JetStar was an early-model business jet operated by the United States Air Force as a small transport aircraft for the President.
Then we could fly in from . . . fly in there—fly over to there [unclear].
Yeah, your big plane, if you were in a JetStar, you could land here, [speaking over Nixon] but I assume you've got a 707, haven't you?[note 12] The Boeing 707 was a large, four-engine jetliner similar in design to Air Force One.
Yeah, we have now, yeah.
Well, what you do is, you would go to San Antonio [Nixon acknowledges], and my plane—it takes about 15 to 18 minutes—it would pick you up, the presidential JetStar, and you could be at the ranch. You could stay there an hour or two hours, whatever it took, and you could go right back and meet your party and bring whoever you chose to bring with you to the briefing.
Our question is whether we can get our plane and get out there in time and, say, if we might get there around, flying from San Antonio on to San Diego [unclear], if we could get there, say, around 11:00 in the morning, would that sound all right?
Yes, that’d be good. [Nixon acknowledges.] You could have lunch with me, if you want to.
[laughing] Well, no we won't do that!
I'd be very glad—
That's awful nice, but I think we've got—you see [President Johnson acknowledges throughout] the San Diego thing is a rally sort of a thing, a "Welcome Home to California" bit. You know how it is.
Hell, I just wanted you to know you were welcome, and you just—
That’s wonderful, wonderful, but I—
What you need to do—I need to do two things.
I need—if I know roughly what it is, I need to have Rusk and Vance from Washington there.
Well, let me say this—
Now, if I'm going to meet with you, Vance would normally go back to Paris [Nixon acknowledges] tonight. I've asked him to stay over.
All right, I'll tell you what. We'll make it at . . . try to make it at, say . . . could we say tentatively 11:00? I haven't anybody here right now.
Is that 11:00 at the ranch? Ten—
Eleven at the . . . let’s see.
Ten-forty-five in San Antonio?
Yeah, 10:45 in San Antonio, 11:00 at the ranch.
That's good. [Nixon acknowledges.] And then you'd work out the details, adjust it up or down—
Yeah, and I'll have . . . talk to Mr. Jones, right? I’ll have my man—
Jim Jones at the White House switchboard.
Right. Well, all right, let’s say [unclear] that we'll do that if you could have Vance there, [President Johnson acknowledges] and I'll find a way to get there some time about 11:00 and, of course, we'll probably be right on the nose.
That's all right. No, no, it doesn't make any difference. My time’s [Nixon acknowledges throughout] . . . we can just adjust it fine.
Thank you, Dick.
Well, that's very good, and I appreciate it, and we’ll . . .
Oh, I appreciate very much [Nixon acknowledges] your general—your attitude on the whole picture.
Well, as you probably noted, I—it took a lot of doing, but at least in our Vietnam statement, I . . . we were able—[Everett M.] Dirksen and I were able to stop the all-out doves, and we made a responsible statement, I thought.[note 13] Everett M. Dirksen was a U.S. senator [R-Illinois] from January 1951 to September 1969, and Senate minority leader from 1959 to 1969.
It's very clear—
I wrote it! [Laughs.]
It's very clear that the enemy is looking at both places and saying so.
And I got a note this morning: my son-in-law's company had 220 [and] is down to half-strength and he lost—had 30 wounded yesterday.[note 14] Captain Charles S. "Chuck" Robb married Johnson's daughter Lynda Bird in 1967; he commanded an infantry company in the First Marine Division in Vietnam.
Yeah. Incidentally, I thought you should know that Agnew, my running mate, the guy I selected, his—he has a boy that's been there for five months—
Well, I'll be damned.
—in Vietnam, so we’ve both got a good interest in that.
And my nephew's out there. [Chuckles.]
So we’re all looking for the same—
We're both supposed to be great political animals, but we both want to do what's best for our country [Nixon acknowledges throughout], and I think it's awfully important, dealing with these Commies for the next four months for us to be completely informed with the same facts and then we can do whatever our judgment dictates.
Thank you, Dick.
Now, now, let me say this. That as far as indicating we're going to stop, we could—I could indicate that. I won't say anything today, but I could indicate that, say, [President Johnson acknowledges] tomorrow, because I have to tell my press corps.
Yes, anytime you want to, you give them [Nixon acknowledges]—you can tell them right now that you—what—
[speaking over President Johnson] I’ll tell them. I'll wait until tomorrow, because I don't want to get them . . . [chuckles] they’d all start to—
You just tell Jim Jones when you’re telling them [Nixon acknowledges] so we won't get scooped.
I'll work on it now to see if we can get the logistics, and then we'll inform Jones as to when we’re going to announce [President Johnson acknowledges] it here and then you’ll—
Now, the way I would handle it this, that the President said, when he put Secret Service with everybody and when he talked to you at the briefing, that at anytime he wanted to make available any information and that you want to be brought up to date, and so he has told you he'll have Rusk and Vance there and you expect a full briefing, period.
And just be sure that Jones knows it 15 minutes before you announce it, so that George Christian—
Yeah, I get it.
—won't have his men mad at him for having to go to Miami to get the President's schedule.[note 15] George E. Christian Jr. was White House press secretary from 1966 to 1969.
[smiling] I got your point.
Thank you. [Nixon laughs.] We can do it simultaneously [Nixon acknowledges], and it takes care of both of us.
All right, all right.
And I'll wait to hear from you.
We won't do anything until tomorrow [President Johnson acknowledges throughout], and we'll probably do it tomorrow morning, and I'll have them call out there.
Well, wonderful, and I just hope you have a good day out there.
Thank you, Dick.
“Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon on 8 August 1968,” Conversation WH6808-01-13304, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006028