In keeping with our Presidential visits to Rochester series (AT END), on October 15th, 1964, President and Democratic nominee Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, Democratic New York senatorial nominee, spoke at the Rochester airport.
On October 15th 1964, while campaigning with Robert Kennedy, President Johnson spoke at the Rochester airport for about twenty minutes. Johnson would win 61.9% of the popular vote in his landslide victory over Republican Barry Goldwater. Johnson carried every New York county and won between 80 – 90% of the Monroe County vote.
Kennedy would fairly easily win the Senate seat held by Rochester’s Kenneth Keating. As seen in 56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial, four years earlier RFK campaigned in Brighton for his brother.
After leaving Rochester, RFK and LBJ would speak at a Buffalo rally. A week after LBJ’s visit, his running mate Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota campaigned in Rochester. During Johnson’s year in office following Kennedy’s assassination, he did not have a Vice President.
Along with his wife Lady Bird, Johnson had previously campaigned in Rochester four years earlier as Vice Presidential candidate on November 2nd, 1960, one day after then-Vice President Nixon spoke before 18,000 at the War Memorial.
Johnson’s remarks at the airport were fairly generic with limited reference to Rochester. He did mention Susan B. Anthony. Although the riots of July 1964 were fresh in the minds of Rochesterians, Johnson neglected the topic. Interestingly, when President Nixon spoke in 1971, he did allude to the ’64 riots, saying: In this city I recall 4 or 5 years [sic] ago there were some difficult problems in the field of race relations.
Goldwater did not campaign in Rochester, but his running mate, New York State Representative William E. Miller of Lockport made a whistle stop speech on October 24th. Miller heartily endorsed Keating (R) in his campaign against Kennedy. See November 3rd, 1964: When Rochester’s Senator Keating lost to RFK in the wake of LBJ’s landslide.
Over the last year, political pundits and historians have drawn parallels between the elections of 1964 and 2016. While the political landscape today is far different, there are some similarities.
In “The Agony of the GOP” The Cow Palace, July 1964, we compared the primaries of ’64 and ’16. In 1964, the Republican establishment did not want Goldwater as its nominee. Various challengers — to no avail — were trotted out and promoted: Nelson Rockefeller, Milton Eisenhower, George Romney , Richard Nixon, Henry Cabot Lodge, and — as a last ditch Hail Mary at the Cow Palace — William Scranton.
But the general elections seem hardly comparable. The campaign of Donald Trump feels unprecedented in American political history. Goldwater was an extremist — drawing his share of John Birch Society conspiracy theorists — but GOP elected officials never abandoned him in droves. And Goldwater was a sitting Senator; while Trump has no previous governmental experience.
Nonetheless, Goldwater’s candidacy drew strident and intense negative responses. As seen in “Agony”, eminent historian Richard Hofstader (who normally eschewed partisan politics) took to the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, if somewhat shrilly:
If [Goldwater] is successful, whether elected or not, in consolidating this party coup he will have brought about a realignment of the parties that will put the democratic process in this country in jeopardy. One is loathe to speculate on the consequence for the safety of the world . . . If I am right, Goldwater owns his party for the calculable future, and if he fails this year is to have another try . . . I have never been persuaded by those who see the wave of a coming apocalypse in every wrinkle on the social surface; but it is now much easier that American is visibly sick with a malady that may do us all in.
And, on the day of Johnson’s arrival, the then conservative Democrat and Chronicle broke with its long standing support for Republican candidates by endorsing Johnson — even while taking a swipe at The Great Society (“sociological doodling”).
The D & C ‘s critique of Goldwater echoes what contemporary conservative papers have said when disavowing Trump. Goldwater was given to “puzzling broadsides and contradictory opinions” and “wild claims.” (Perhaps not coincidentally, next to the article above about the GOP’s “Truth Squad” airplane is placed an article about four more upstate newspapers joining the D & C in its endorsement.)
After Goldwater’s landslide defeat, the GOP would reorganize. In 1964, Nixon did not enter the race partly over his bitterness over treatment by other Republicans after his razor thin defeat to Kennedy in ’60 and partly because Nixon thought no one could defeat JFK’s heir. While a far different politician than Goldwater, in 1968 Nixon would further and successfully advance Goldwater’s nascent “Southern Strategy,” bringing the south into the Republican fold. And, the movement conservatism begun in defeat by Goldwater would be embodied in Reagan’s victory in 1980.
In October when Johnson spoke at the airport, the United State’s involvement in Vietnam was already deep. By March, 1968, Vietnam became Johnson’s Waterloo. It was Vice President Hubert Humphrey who ran — and lost — in 1968.