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It turned out to be far more than that.
At the end, Johnson shocked the nation by announcing:
With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office–the Presidency of your country.
Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
I remember the impact of those words. I was working as a reporter in the newsroom of The Roanoke Times at the time and the TV was on in the background as Johnson spoke. When he dropped the bombshell of not running again, several of us looked up and said something like “what did he just say?”
Within seconds, alarm bells that signal a news alert began ringing on the teletype machines in an enclosure off the newsroom.
While the news shocked many, it did not surprise some Democratic strategists who had worked for months to convince Johnson to step down. With the country divided by an unpopular war and domestic problems the party needed something something drastic to keep its hold on the White House.
It didn’t work. Richard Nixon took the 1968 election and gave us Watergate and more reasons to distrust the Presidency and government.
Now, more than four decades later, some Democrats whisper privately in the halls of power that the party is once again stuck with an unpopular President who should consider not running again.
Should Barack Obama quit with just one term? It’s an idea Democrats won’t discuss publicly but do ponder privately.
Republicans, in the meantime, aren’t shy about suggesting the same thing.
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote recently in The Washington Post that Hillary Clinton would have made a far better President and suggested Democrats should turn to her to replace Obama instead of having him lose an election for a second term.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is saying the same thing.
Former GOP Congressman and current talk show host Joe Scarborough this week asked if it were possible that Obama might pull a Johnson and decide not to run for a second term.
His cohost — Mika Brzezinski quickly shot down that idea. Their guests agreed with a consensus that Obama’s ego and concern about the “historical significance” of his Presidency would never allow him to even consider not running again.
Obama quitting is a stretch but political realities could change even the President’s thinking. His poll numbers and approval ratings continue to drop and his concern about his place in history could be overruled by the very real possibility that he could go down in flames if he tries to win a second term.
Stranger things have happened and in today’s surreal political environment, strange is the new normal.