Jacqueline Kennedy Reveals That JFK Feared an LBJ Presidency


When they were fellow senators in the late 1950s, Johnson's profanity and political trickery "sort of amused" Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy said. She said the future president "didn't particularly like him."

By Jacqueline Kennedy's telling, her husband never really wanted Johnson on his 1960 ticket in the first place. She said he really wanted to choose Missouri Sen. Stuart Symington, and even indicated that Symington was his choice to a mutual friend, Clark Clifford, on the day of his nomination at the Democratic National Convention.

In choosing among possible running mates in 1960, Kennedy and his close allies "liked Lyndon Johnson the least," Jacqueline Kennedy said. But Kennedy believed he needed to offer Johnson a spot on the ticket "to annul him as majority leader," she said, fearing that his "enormous ego" would have led Johnson to block Kennedy's agenda in the Senate as president if he felt slighted.

"Everyone was even amazed that he accepted," she said. "Some other people can tell you about it, going down into his room and everything -- and I guess he was drunk, wasn't he?"

Recorded in early 1964, Kennedy was seeking to shape her late husband's legacy at the same time that the new president was adjusting to the office in which he was suddenly thrust. She fretted that Johnson was currying favor with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, whom her husband, she said, planned to oust after the 1964 election.

That decision was among several that have "all been done the wrong way" under President Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy said.

She depicted the new president as struggling with the burdens of the office, saying "the poor man's terrified" and appeared "panic-struck."

In a prescient observation about Vietnam -- the comments came in June 1964, years before the Vietnam War descended into the quagmire that would sink the Johnson presidency -- she warned that the new president's leadership style left him ill-equipped to handle the deepening crisis in Southeast Asia.

"Jack always said the political thing there was more important than the military and nobody's thinking of that," she said. "And they don't call the people who were in it before. And so that's the way chaos starts."

Apparently realizing how her tone sounded, she added, "people will think I'm bitter, but I'm not so bitter now. But I just wanted it to be in context the kind of president Jack was and the kind Lyndon is."

"When something really crisis happens, that's when they're going to miss Jack. And I just want them to know it's because they don't have that kind of president and not because it was inevitable."

Jacqueline Kennedy was also dismissive of Johnson's wife, Lady Bird Johnson. She recalled that Lady Bird Johnson would follow her husband around and make notes about his conversations with others, "sort of like a trained hunting dog."

"She had every name, phone number – it was a – ewww – sort of a funny kind of way of operating."

The interviews occurred during a tenuous time in the relationship between Jacqueline Kennedy and President Johnson, historian Michael Beschloss, who wrote the book's introduction and footnotes, told ABC News.

"LBJ made a very big effort to make sure that Jacqueline Kennedy was on the reservation from his point of view, and on these tapes he keeps on calling her up and saying come down to the White House. And she says I can't bear to do it, it'll make me start crying again," Beschloss said. "Johnson had nightmares that he would get to the Democratic Convention in 1964, and in would come Bobby Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy -- stampede the delegates to vote for not LBJ but RFK for president."

Johnson would win renomination in 1964, although his rivalry with Robert Kennedy would continue. Robert Kennedy left his post as Johnson's attorney general in September 1964, and later broke publicly with Johnson on Vietnam.

Robert Kennedy's decision to seek the Democratic nomination in 1968 helped push Johnson out of that race. Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968.

Click Here to Pre-Order "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John. F. Kennedy"

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