An Alternative History Exercise: What If JFK Hadn’t Died?

Examining a history that might have been.

Ann Althouse posed a hypothetical for her readers yesterday:

Assume JFK was not assassinated. Now, beginning with the 1964 election and continuing up to 2012, name the candidates for President and Vice President in both parties and who would have won. Fill in with reasons why this happened.

As with Lincoln, the assassination of JFK has always been a favorite turning point for “alt history” fans and authors. Indeed, Stephen King wrote a book on the subject that was published last year which I recommend to anyone interested in that kind of fiction. With the vast social changes that began to occur just years after he died that day in Dallas, and the Vietnam War and all of its consequences, the question of what Kennedy might have done differently is a rich, rich ground for “what if?” questions. Several years ago, a group of former Kennedy (and Johnson) advisers got together and tried to speculate how Kennedy might have handled the situations that Johnson faced with regard to Vietnam. It resulted in a book called Virtual JFK that is both a brutal reassessment of the Johnson Administration’s policies and a warning for future interventions in foreign lands. The general conclusion always has been that, had JFK lived, we would not have had the Vietnam War, a conclusion that (as I note below) may be based more on the myth of Camelot than reality.

Nonetheless, it’s no doubt clear that many things would have been different had Kennedy lived, so lets speculate what the world would’ve been based, at least in part, on Althouse’s hypothetical.

The 1964 Election — I don’t think that there would have been many differences here from the way things actually turned out. Kennedy would have obviously run for re-election and, while there might have been some discussion inside the closed circle of his close advisers about dumping picking a different Vice-Presidential running mate, Johnson would’ve been in the Veep slot. On the Republican side, virtually nothing would’ve been different. Goldwater was already talking about running in 1963 and the organization that would get him the Republican nomination was already being formed. There may have been some discussion among Republican insiders about setting up a Kennedy/Nixon rematch, but the Goldwater wave was too powerful resist in our 1964 and it would’ve been too powerful to resist then. In his later years, Goldwater used to talk a lot about him and Kennedy campaigning together Lincoln-Douglas style, but I doubt that would’ve happened. It would’ve been a tough campaign, although I don’t think JFK would’ve done something like the Daisy ad. In the end, Kennedy would’ve won re-election, perhaps by as wide a margin as Johnson did over Goldwater. However, the first signs of the Republican takeover of the South would be put in place for the future.

A Vietnam Interlude — The biggest question here is what Kennedy would’ve done with regard to Vietnam. Virtual JFK posits one theory which, while plausible on some points, seems  to leave out the consideration of several crucial facts. It cannot be forgotten that Kennedy continued the policies that had started in the Eisenhower Administration. Additionally, just weeks before his own assassination, he authorized the coup that resulted in the arrest and assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, the President of South Vietnam.  There are many historians who argue that, form that point forward, the United States had committed itself irrevocably to the political future of South Vietnam, for better or worse. While Kennedy might not have gone all-in as quickly and eagerly as Johnson did, there are really no credible signs that he was inclined to decrease the nation’s commitments in Southeast Asia (although many assassination conspiracy theories claim that he was) or that he would have not responded to increased pressure from the Communist regime in North Vietnam. So, while we may not have had an LBJ style war in Vietnam (or maybe we would have), there seems to e to be no question that America would have had some kind of military commitment in South Vietnam in the mid-to-late 1960s. Whether it would have been sufficient enough to inspire the anti-war movement and the other cultural changes of the 1960s is a far more complicated question.

A Civil Rights Interlude — The other major question post-1964 is the Civil Rights Movement. As many historians have noted, Kennedy sometimes kept the Civil Rights Movement at arms length. For example, there was no official Presidential recognition of the 1963 March on Washington. So, we have to ask ourselves. How aggressive would he have been in pushing for things like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act? As a Southern Democrat, Lyndon Johnson had a certain amount of freedom in taking on the Southern Democrats who were opposed to legislation like this, and perhaps as Vice-President he would have been able to run damage control for Kennedy during these battles. I think the legislation still would’ve passed, but it would’ve been a very different fight.

The 1968 Election — This is where things get interesting, of course. Kennedy can’t run for re-election thanks to the 22nd Amendment. Johnson would’ve been 60 at this point and likely would be the favorite for the nomination depending on the state of the economy and, of course, what actually happened in Vietnam. Absent a massive anti-war movement, McCarthy and McGovern would’ve had no base at all inside the party. Hubert Humphrey likely would be a candidate, but it seems unlikely that Bobby Kennedy would have challenged a sitting Vice-President, especially if he had stayed on as Attorney General for the full eight years of the Kennedy Administration. So, most likely, the nomination would’ve been Johnson’s almost by default. On the Republican side, Nixon would still seem to be a front-runner if he chose to run but, absent the fully Vietnam disaster, it’s possible that George Romney might have had a far more successful campaign. Ronald Reagan ran that year as well, but I don’t see him winning mostly because the GOP would still be feeling burned by the Goldwater defeat. So, in the end, I think Nixon gets the nomination. A Nixon-Johnson race? That would’ve been epic, and the outcome would depend on too many variables to speculate on. However, let’s assume that the final year of the Kennedy Administration would’ve found America in better shape than the final year of the Johnson Administration did and give this one to LBJ and his Vice-Presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey. Nixon’s VP pick? That’s a wild guess because I don’t think it would’ve been Agnew under this scenario.

The 1972 Election — Lyndon Johnson died on January 22, 1973 and was in poor health long before then. In fact, he had experienced a massive heart attack in April 1972 after which it was determined that his heart and coronary arteries were  far too damaged for surgery. If he hadn’t been incapacitated under the provisions of the 25th Amendment, I doubt he would’ve been physically capable of running for re-election in any event. That pretty much would’ve handed the nomination to Vice-President (or perhaps Acting President) Hubert Humphrey. (Yes I know it’s possible that he might not have gotten in to poor health like he did after 1968, but LBJ had already had one heart attack in 1955 and was on track for another) On the Republican side, Ronald Reagan would be making a comeback after his 1968 bid and would win the nomination. For his running mate, he’d be looking at moderate. Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, George Romney, and one of these could’ve been an appropriate pick for him under this scenario. Reagan v. Humphrey would’ve been the most ideological election since 1964, but I think it would’ve turned out differently this time. The oil shocks of the early 70s still would’ve happened, and would have sent the economy into a tailspin, and the incumbent party would’ve been blamed for that.  Reagan/Romney defeats Humphrey/(Bobby) Kennedy.

After this, we’re a decade past our “what if” moment and things start to become a little murky because it’s hard to decide how history might have gone differently. There may have been political actors who took the stage that we’ve never really considered. The Cold War could’ve gone much worse, or much better. Any number of things could’ve happened. Nonetheless. here are a few quick guesses:

  • 1976 — Republican ticket of Reagan/Romney wins re-election over a Democratic ticket of Bobby Kennedy/Edmund Muskie
  • 1980 — Republican ticket of Romney/Laxalt wins over a Democratic ticket of Henry Jackson/Jimmy Carter
  • 1984 — Republican ticket of Romney/Laxalt wins re-election over a Democratic ticket of John Glenn/Walter Mondale
  • 1988 — Democratic ticket of John Glenn/Sam Nunn wins over a Republican ticket of Jack Kemp/Tom Kean

I’m going to stop there. By 1992 we’re 30 years past the “what if” date and any speculation on candidates and victors would be pure speculation even less based in fact than the guesses I made for 1976 through 1988.

In any event, feel free to speculate on your own. Because until we figure out how to travel to alternate realities, there’s no such thing as a wrong guess here.

FILED UNDER: General, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Murray says:

    Don’t miss our next episode in wild ass speculation: What if Reagan had died?

  2. john personna says:

    I am reading “the company of the dead” today, 458 pages in, of 745. That’s juggling enough parallel histories 😉 It is a pretty good book.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    While Kennedy might not have gone all-in as quickly and eagerly as Johnson did, there are really no credible signs that he was inclined to decrease the nation’s commitments in Southeast Asia (although many assassination conspiracy theories claim that he was) or that he would have not responded to increased pressure from the Communist regime in North Vietnam.

    Funny, everything I’ve read about Kennedy in regards to Viet Nam and the Cold War in general makes me think he was a bigger–and more eager–hawk than Johnson. I think if Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated we would have entered Vietnam on either the same, or an accelerated timeline.

  4. Ernieyeball says:

    What if The Moon was made of Green Cheese?????

    Oh,..wait…we know it’s not.

  5. Peter says:

    If Hubert Humphrey had won in 1972, and then won re-election in 1976, or (less likely) was elected for the first time in 1976, his vice president would have become president. Humphrey was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 1977, deteriorated very rapidly, and died in January 1978. That of course would have changed the dynamics of the 1980 election. Also, I note that you’re assuming that Robert Kennedy wasn’t assassinated.

    Also, as long as we’re on the subject of death, what if John Hinckley had used a .357 Magnum? Would the undoing of Communism come about under a President George H.W. Bush?

  6. Burt Likko says:

    I’m prone to thinking that JFK was an eager Cold Warrior and a less-than-enthusiastic civil rights advocate. So the second Kennedy Administration would have been a lot like the first: dragging its feet on civil rights and angering what we would today call the progressive wing of the Democratic party, while jumping into Vietnam as much as did LBJ.

    So I can go along with the idea of Kennedy-Johnson beating out Goldwater in 1964, but I say that Nixon-whoever winds up beating Johnson-Humphrey in 1968. From there, things would have progressed more or less as they actually have — Nixon doesn’t find an easy or fast way out of Vietnam, gets bogged down with domestic economic problems, and ultimately disgraces himself with criminal activity and resigns; his Veep might or might not have had Ford’s courage in pardoning him but either way the 1973 political reforms out of Congress happen and Carter wins the White House in 1976.

    It only varies from real history in a meaningful sense at that point if it was Reagan who got beat by Carter in 1976, but it seems unlikely to me that Nixon would have looked to Reagan to be the #2 guy back in 1968 or even 1972.

  7. Burt Likko says:

    It’s a parlor game, @Ernieyeball: If you think it’s a dumb game, just don’t play.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    I think you should consider the possibility that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, and the Social Security Reform Act of 1965, just to name a few, were politically possible because of Kennedy’s assassination.

    Also, Kennedy’s approval had fallen sharply throughout his presidency. In September 1963 his approval rating was at 56 and his disapproval rating was at 30, the lowest and highest, respectively, of his presidency. In other words, re-election was far from assured.

  9. Peter says:

    A couple more considerations:

    JFK had varied and serious medical problems. Probably not enough to be fatal, but quite possibly enough to have discouraged him from running for a second term in 1964. A Lyndon Johnson running as successor to a medically retiring president would not have gotten the same degree of boost as a Lyndon Johnson running as successor to an assassinated president. Whether that would have been enough to give the election to Goldwater is the question.

    Going back to Dallas, if Oswald’s head shot had missed, JFK might have been left severely physically disabled. On the Zapruder film it looks as if JFK is grabbing his neck in response to the first shot. In fact, what we see is an involuntary muscular reaction to a spinal injury. When Oswald’s bullet traversed JFK’s neck at very high velocity, it created a shock wave capable of causing severe spinal damage – up to and including complete permanent paralysis – even though it didn’t actually strike the spinal column. Would a physically disabled yet cognitively sound JFK have been able to remain in office and/or run for re-election?

  10. Ernieyeball says:

    I’m sorry, I’m depressed.
    I just found out that the gal that has been trimming my dome for the last 2 years or so is leavin’ town. This is a serious breakup that I have no control over so I’m pouting a lot.
    Whitney Beaver, I swear on my mother’s grave that is her real name, is moving 300 miles to Chicago where she will soon start cutting hairs at Floyd’s 99 Barbershop in Lincoln park.
    As these things go she will promise to visit Sleepytown when she can but it’s a good bet I will never see her again.
    Good on Ya’ girl…I won’t blame you if you never come back!

    Now I can spend my time playing What if Whitney Never Left!

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Actually, Murray brings up an interesting question: what if the assassin’s bullet had claimed Reagan in 1981? I submit that not much in the way of policy would have changed from that point until 1984, that George H. W. Bush would have been re-elected, that he would not have been eligible to run in 1988 but would have been succeeded by either Bob Dole or Jack Kemp.

    In all likelihood Clinton would have been elected anyway in 1992.

  12. Brett says:

    I personally think “What if Nixon had been elected in the close 1960 election instead of Kennedy?” is more interesting than “What if Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated?”, but they’re both interesting counter-factuals.

    I believe that Kenned would have eventually committed US troops openly in Vietnam. It wouldn’t have happened as quickly as it did in real life, but eventually the North Vietnamese government was going to openly assault South Vietnam in conventional warfare in an attempt to take open control. They were drawing heavily on the Mao’s example for how to conduct revolutionary warfare, and one of the key phases in Mao’s path to control was shifting from guerrilla/unconventional warfare to open warfare to take control once you’re strong enough. My guess is that the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive-equivalent would be more effective in this alternate reality, and so we’d get Kennedy authorizing and pushing for the use of conventional US troops after that so that he wouldn’t “lose” Vietnam.

    In fact, I wonder if it would turn into Korean War 2.0 except with Vietnam instead, with the US ending up in open warfare with a Soviet-backed North Vietnam and possible Chinese intervention. The only niggling factor is that the North Vietnamese government would be really opposed t to allowing any Chinese military forces in their territory – historically, communist Vietnam actually fought China in a short war in 1979 (the Sino-Vietnamese War).

    As for the anti-war movements, I think they’d actually end up being more potent (with more rioting and violence). If they get shifted down the road a couple of years, we’ll end up having them in the middle of the economic problems of the early 1970s instead of the late 1960s. Assuming we have the inflation issues of real-life 1970s America, of course, which isn’t a given since the Great Society programs might never get passed.

  13. DRS says:

    About the most I’d be willing to predict is this (not in any particular order):

    1. Kennedy would have won re-election but it would have been a fight. And we would have been spared all the sickening Camelot nonsense that bathed him in a kind of posthumous spectral glow.

    2. He would have gone into Vietnam but with the experience of Cuba behind him would have asked a hell of a lot more questions than Johnson did. Probably would have had more of an escape hatch/Plan B in his pocket too.

    3. He would have done almost squat for civil rights. Johnson had southern street cred – kind of an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China thing – and there’s no indication that JFK shared RFK’s belated passion for the subject. Again a posthumous Camelot afterglow assumes JFK would have taken the initiative on the issue.

    4. Nixon would have pursued and probably won the Republican nomination. After his second defeat by JFK, he would have really retired from politics and written several books about foreign affairs and policy issues and been greatly respected as a man who could have been a great president.

    5. The biggest change would have been the absence of the feeling that society was going to hell in a handbasket which was initiated by JFK’s assination. I don’t think people really remember how truly shocking and horrifying it was for Americans. By the time MLK and RFK were killed, it was almost old hat.

    That’s all I’m coming up with right now.

  14. bk says:

    John Jr. would have had a much more normal life, and would have entered politics, and would now be President running for a second term.

  15. Scott O says:

    What if Ann Althouse wasn’t nuts?

  16. Davebo says:

    What if Ceasar had a Cessna?

    Geez, talk about navel gazing.

  17. Ron Beasley says:

    @DRS:

    5. The biggest change would have been the absence of the feeling that society was going to hell in a handbasket which was initiated by JFK’s assination. I don’t think people really remember how truly shocking and horrifying it was for Americans. By the time MLK and RFK were killed, it was almost old hat.

    At 66 I remember it well – I was a junior in high school and the announcement over the PA system still rings in my ears. I’m not really sure that it represents a shift that lead Americans to believe that the US was going to hell in a handbag. I think the hippies had a lot more to do with that. It was the hippies that scared the hell out of America and it was the war in Vietnam that created the hippies. And don’t forget that the United States in the 60s was still a Calvinist nation. Free love coincided with birth control pills. The hippies scared the hell out of a still basically Calvinist country.. I don’t see how the assassination of Kennedy could have had more of an impact than that.
    Coda: I was a hippy in the late 60s and early 70s. I had a forty year break when I wore gray pinstripe suits and flew in corporate jets. For the last 10 years I have rediscovered my inner hippy.

  18. Peter says:

    John Jr. would have had a much more normal life, and would have entered politics, and would now be President running for a second term.

    I don’t see how his father’s survival would have prevented JFK Jr.’s death. Unless he would have been a big-shot politician in 1999 (senator from New York, for instance) and would have had his own pilot, but that’s a real stretch. In real life he actually could have chartered a plane and pilot for the trip to Martha’s Vineyard, but he enjoyed flying.

  19. Peter says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    While it was a bit before my time, I had heard that most people originally regarded the hippies as silly and amusing, it was only after the Charles Manson killings that attitudes toward them got worse.

  20. Latino_in_Boston says:

    I definitely think that had Kennedy lived, there would have been very little progress on the civil rights issue. LBJ not only had the street cred, but created a flexible coalition because of his huge win in 1964 (that I don’t see happening without Kennedy’s assassination), many of whom voted for the bill at least partly out of respect to Kennedy.

    The more interesting question to me is what would have happened if the Democrats had not self-destructed in 1968. Without that mess, I think Humphrey would have won, which means no Nixon. Without Nixon, there would be no Carter, and perhaps no Reagan. Without the Gipper, I don’t see the GOP going in the direction they’ve gone. We’d have a more reasonable party that was not full of supply siders.

    But perhaps I’m being an optimist.

  21. Jib says:

    The 2 great events that created the economy of the 70’s was Nixon taking the US off the gold standard and peak US oil, which lead to the US importing oil for the first time, setting the stage for the oil embargoes.

    Nether of these had any thing to do with who ever was in the WH or what party was running things. Peak oil was a geological fact and taking the US off the gold standard was baked into the cake by the post-war economic policies of the US. As early as 1961 economists were pointing out that there were too many dollars floating around the world for the amount of gold and some day either the dollars had to stop flowing and go back home or the gold standard had to be dumped.

    Turns out ‘someday’ was around 10 years.

    It was the end of the gold standard that really fueled the inflation of the 70’s with the oil embargoes adding gasoline to the flames. No matter who was prez or in control of the house, the late 70’s were going to be an economic basket case. Who ever had the WH in 76 was going to lose it in 80. And who ever controlled the WH in 80 was going to get the credit of the economical rebound in the 80’s.

    One thing that would have been different though, without Watergate, there is no dem landslides in 74. Which means there is a decent chance that repubs would have control of one or both houses sometime in the 70’s. Certainly Kevin Phillips thought so when he published “The emerging Republican majority” in 1969.

    Which means the politics of the last 30 years would have been very different. Following Dougs timeline, the conservative movement which started with Goldwater would have died in Reagans second term when the economy imploded. The liberals would have ran on a “See, just like Hoover and the depression!” and the dangers of deregulation and liberal trade policies would clearly be to blame since everything was great before. Welcome to the Neo-New Deal.

    The rest is alt-history.

  22. Ron Beasley says:

    @Peter: I was there and what you “heard” is dead wrong. It was the drugs and free love that freaked people out..

  23. Ernieyeball says:

    free love that freaked people out..

    Free Luv…HA!

    There was ALWAYS a price to pay…

  24. Squiddy says:

    The problem with JFK academia currently is this, at least in my opinion: anything that favors JFK gets tainted by the Conspiracy nuts, or is perceived to be tainted by the conspiracy nuts and thus often times, as seen somewhat here, it is discounted. That leads to a counter reaction where JFK is condemned as many things: a hawk who would have gone into Vietnam, brash, against Civil Rights, and so on. Frankly, that’s totally unfair, though. The Camelot myth as being one of a perfect era should be overcome, but replacing it with a picture of JFK as those who condemn Kennedy have is misguided, if not totally dishonest, and academically dangerous (the consensus is a powerful tool, and a wrong consensus is still widely believed in spite of its falsehood). Kennedy certainly was not perfect, nor was his administration, but to attach undue failings to him and his administration and to condemn it on the basis of false assumptions is wrong.
    Kennedy was not brash nor a hawk, and especially not more so than Johnson. JFK was, above all, a pragmatist, and a man who believed in diplomacy before brash action. This is why Kennedy frequently clashed with those like Curtis LeMay and other military men who asked him, such as in instances as the Cuban Missile Crisis, to use military force. A hawk, as counter-myth holds him to be, would have been in favor of such action. Kennedy was asked many times to commit the United States to Vietnam with active military units; not just advisers, as had been there since Eisenhower, but with American soldiers to fight the Communists. Kennedy did not believe the United States should make Vietnam its war, and was wary of such a thing, and fearful that the United States would be committing itself to something where the South would keep asking for more and more. Johnson’s failing in Vietnam was that he was less a foreign policy president than Kennedy, and was also not involved in the situation as long as Kennedy had been given that Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and Johnson walked into a situation where the post-Diem regime was coming into place. I also suspect Johnson was a bit ignorant in his actions, given that he did have trepidation, but believed that maybe he could scare the Viet Cong into submission with American might. Vietnam is frankly not hard to avoid as an American war; when opinion polls were first conducted on Vietnam in 1964, the majority of the public said they didn’t pay attention to it, and it was only 30-something percent that did. Of that percent that did, most expected ceasefire or for Saigon to fall shortly thereafter. Kennedy would have likely avoided Vietnam as an American war, due to his nature and circumstances which would not have pressed him into it, as much as Nixon would have avoided the war had he won in 1960, as would I dare say most people if they had won in 1960. Perhaps LBJ, too, if he had won in 1960 and had overseen the situation longer to have a more level headed course set for the United States in Southeast Asia.
    On Civil Rights, Kennedy did drag his feet on the matter. However, I must say that the idea of JFK, the Anti-Civil Rightist or JFK, the man who would not act, ignores something which is prevalent in history, but is too often ignored in counterfactuals, which is that people do develop and change over time. Kennedy’s opinion and perspective on Civil Rights is something that did change overtime. He wasn’t a racist, and I don’t think anyone here has accused him of being so, but I dare say as a white person from the North East during this period, his earlier opinion of racism and segregation would have been this: he did not hate black people nor did he approve of segregation, but how things were was just they way things were. During the Civil Rights movement, and early in his presidency, his opinion was that action must be taken, but things needed to take some time, and there’s other things that need attention. It was in 1963, though, that his opinion did come around to that comprehensive action did need to be taken as soon as possible, which lead him to propose what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under LBJ. To show you the opinion on Kennedy in contemporary times, by the way, many in the black community feared that when JFK was assassinated, his Civil Rights proposals died with him, and were very happy when they saw that Johnson managed to get Civil Rights through Congress. So had Kennedy lived, you would have seen him trying to get a Civil Rights act passed. The largest issue here, however, is getting it passed through Congress. I do recall reading, however, that the people involved were already in majority agreement to get it passed, so it likely would have passed regardless.

    So Vietnam is a foreign civil war in a place most Americans still can’t locate on the globe which Uncle Sam is sending trainers and supplies to, Kennedy wins in 1964 (Goldwater still the likely nominee), Civil Rights gets passed thereafter, after 1964 Kennedy gets in these new Liberals in the House and Senate which helps him pass his New Frontier (which is less than what the Great Society was since LBJ was looking to make the New Deal Part II). You still wind up with Hippies, Free Love, and all that since society is still progressing; any militancy would arise from difficulty in getting black equality even after Civil Rights, without Vietnam to exacerbate it and raise it in other areas. Kennedy actually had a few things he was working on, such as detente with the Soviets or at least improved relations and rapprochement with Castro (there were actually back channels between Kennedy and Castro going on discussing Cuba leaving the Soviet sphere and the US opening relations with them as a result. Kennedy lost faith in getting rid of Castro, and Castro grew tired of the Soviets). There were also proposals of neutralization of Cuba in exchange for neutralization of Vietnam, which the US and USSR wished to disentangle themselves from, though I don’t know how aware Kennedy was of them. It certainly would have lined up well with the aforementioned proposals.
    In 1968, RFK likely does not run given he would not have left the Cabinet (perhaps he runs for elective office that year or later, however). I honestly don’t know who the nominee for the Democrats would be, although JFK would be in a prime position to pick his successor. I have doubts on LBJ given his age. The Republicans could nominate Richard Nixon, who had as much chance of rising from the ashes as he did in actual history. From 1968 onward, and who wins it, who knows what would happen.

    To dispel two rumors in closing, had Kennedy lived, you would not have seen the United States work with the USSR in a joint effort to land a man on the Moon. Congress passed legislation upon hearing JFK say the US and USSR could work in that way that if NASA did do that, Congress would remove all funding for it. Kennedy was working on getting that overturned until he was assassinated, but even if he survived, I doubt it was feasible. US/USSR cooperation in space elsewhere, perhaps, but not on the moon race. Second, Kennedy was not a space nut, and had little special concern for space. He viewed the Moon race as something that the United States could use either to beat the Soviets and show American prowess, thus raising national prestige in the Cold War, or as something where the US could work with the Soviets and thus foster cooperation between the Superpowers.

  25. Squiddy says:

    Something else I forgot to discuss previously:

    In 1964, Kennedy would have won handily. There’s a myth that LBJ won how he did only because of JFK’s death, which isn’t true. Goldwater was the arch-Conservative in the age of the Liberal Consensus, where Conservative was a four letter word and Goldwater was Mr. Conservative. Not only that, but he was going up against a wildly popular administration, whether that be under JFK or LBJ. Martyrdom may have helped somewhat, but only by a few percentage points at most. It was not going to be any kind of fight, and Goldwater would have been clobbered.

    Something interesting, though, is that Kennedy and Goldwater discussed flying around the country from place to place and having whistle-stop debates. I don’t know the likelihood of it, and Goldwater said in 1988 that it probably wouldn’t have happened, but if it had, it may have helped Goldwater somewhat. He’d still have lost very, very handily though.

    Kennedy would very likely, unlike LBJ, not have been so brutal to Goldwater (who was a friend), which may have helped Goldwater as well. However, he was still Mr. Conservative, still had said things which rubbed the public the wrong way, was still viewed a certain way in the popular consensus, and so he would -to reiterate- have lost handily.

  26. but I don’t see him winning mostly because the GOP would still be feeling burned by the Goldwater defeat

    Would Goldwater’s defeat have been such a landslide absent the Kennedy assassination? At least some of Johnson’s support was due to the fact that it was less than a year since the President had been killed and LBJ was seen as his chosen successor.

  27. Latino_in_Boston says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Precisely. It’s also the reason why civil rights would not have gone much further than with LBJ. I think Kennedy would have either punted or failed.

  28. al-Ameda says:

    If JFK had not been assassinated and had experienced a 2 term presidency, I believe this country would not have experienced the subsequent race riots and killings of MLK and RFK either. I do not believe we would have gone all in on Vietnam.

    1968? Perhaps Civil Rights would have been simmering under the surface, and Nixon would still have been a GOP force. Bobby v. LBJ would have been a great Democratic Party succession race.

  29. Chris says:

    1964 – JFK/LBJ d Goldwater/Miller

    Vietnam ramps up after the Gulf of Tonkin, although it doesn’t progress to a scale where the draft needs to be used. In the Dem race, LBJ decides against running, as does RFK (who is still Att. Gen having not run for Senate to ‘get away’ from a pres Johnson in 1964). Sen Humphrey wins the primary. For the Reps, George Romney’s Vietnam gaffe never occurs and he narrowly beats Nixon in the primaries.

    1968 – Humphrey/Muskie d Romney/Agnew

    Vietnam escalates following 1968, and a draft is introduced. Public opinion turns against the administration following Kent state in 1970. By 1972 it is drawing to a close (analysts expect US combat troops to leave by Jan 1973). In the Rep race, former candidate Romney runs again and narrowly beats California Governor Reagan. As Romney appears more likely to become president in 1972 than in 1968, more is made of his Mormonism. Reagan, popular with Southern voters despite his being based in the West Coast is seen to balance the ticket somewhat.

    1972 – Romney/Reagan d Humphrey/Muskie

    Watergate doesn’t happen, Vietnam finishes on schedule and Romney goes to China. There are few Dems willing to go against a popular administration. Carter, the little-known governor of Georgia does well, but the ‘anti-Beltway’ mood which took him to victory in reality doesn’t occur. He is narrowly beaten by McGovern who adds him on the VP slot. Romney/Reagan are easily re-elected.

    1976 – Romney/Reagan d McGovern/Carter

    The economy starts to stagnate, and though Romney doesn’t make the ‘malaise’ speech, Ted Kennedy (who beats Carter in the 1980 primaries) is able to ask Americans if they are better off than 4 years ago. Vice-President Reagan is narrowly defeated by Senator Kennedy.

    1980 – E.Kennedy/Carter d Reagan/Dole

    Kennedy never achieves the popularity of his brother, and Chappaquiddick is still mentioned.
    Reagan at 73 almost doesn’t run, but realises neither Dole nor Bush, the other runners, are going to beat a Kennedy. Reagan wins the primaries on a ‘one-term’ promise, pledging this will allow him to govern ‘above politics’

    1984 – Reagan/Bush d Kennedy/Carter

    The Reagan/Bush administration is popular, and VP Bush is nominated almost by default in 1988 when Reagan honors his one-term pledge. Few Dems are willing to attempt 1988.

    1988 – Bush/Quayle d Dukakis/Bentsen

    Despite riding high in the polls following the Gulf conflict, the economy goes into recession by 1992. Governor Clinton of Arkansas squeezes through the Dem primaries and is helped to a victory in the General by independent Ross Perot.

    1992 – Clinton/Gore d Bush/Quayle

    And again

    1996 – Clinton/Gore d Dole/Kemp

    The Republican primary is a close 3-way involving two sons of former presidents. Governor George W Bush of Texas is pitted against Senator Mitt Romney of Massachussetts (who in 1994 easily won the seat once held by former presidents John and Ted Kennedy) and Senator McCain of Arizona. Sen Romney wins the nod in a brokered convention. The Bushes receive a consolation prize when first-term Florida governor Jeb is chosen for the VP slot, meaning that both slots on the ticket are held by sons of former presidents.

    2000 – M.Romney/J.Bush d Gore/Lieberman

    In the decade and a half following 9/11 America will have four one term presidents. Romney’s response to 9/11 is competent, launching a full-scale assault on the Taliban government of Afghanistan to flush out Bin Laden, who is killed in his Pakistan compound in early 2003. He ignores the urging of his DefSec Rumsfeld to take the opportunity to launch an invasion of Iraq. However, Romney appears wooden and unemotional and never ‘clicks’ with the American public. In the 3rd year of the Afghan conflict, the Taliban appear well bedded in and there are fears the conflict could become a new Vietnam.

    2004 – Kerry/H.Clinton d Romney/Bush

    Despite his election rhetoric, Afghanistan is still rumbling on after 7 years by the end of Kerry’s first term. Added to the economic crisis which escalates dramatically during 2008, it appears that Kerry and Clinton are doomed. With a serious chance to take the White House, McCain is talked out of his ‘game-change’ Palin VP pick by his advisors and instead opts for an equally game changing 37-year old Indian-American governor.

    2008 – McCain/Jindal d Kerry/Clinton

    The US economy continues to struggle, and McCain is seen to divert resources away from securing the auto industry and the banking system to fund a series of small but costly conflicts in Libya and Syria. It is also well known that it is only the huge budget deficit which keeps McCain and Sec State Bolton from launching against Iraq and Iran. Former VP Clinton appears a dead cert for the Dem nomination but is beaten by 2nd term Senator Barack Obama. Running on a message of hope and change, the 51 year old Senator defeats the 74 year old president by a landslide.

    2012 – Obama/Biden d McCain/Jindal

  30. Rick DeMent says:

    Due to the Distraction of HH running for president Jose Feliciano is not asked to sing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” and causes Lou Brock to go into home plate sliding which in turn causes Freehand to miss the tag in game five handing the 68 world series to the Cards.

  31. Latino_in_Boston says:

    It’s also interesting to consider the foreign policy changes that would have happened as a result of Kennedy living. If the Cold War had “softened” for example, and especially if Reagan had not been elected, then you wouldn’t have had the level of Central American violence that occurred. If that’s the case, then you’d have seen far less Salvadorians and Guatemalans coming to the US, which in turn would have prevented the creation of the Mara Salvatrucha. (This is especially true if Clinton had not signed the 1996 IIRIRA).

    The Israeli-Palestinian problem might have also turned out differently, with a two state solution having been reached by now, perhaps.

    Without Nixon, there’s no coup in Chile, and without Pinochet, there might not have been coups in Argentina or Uruguay. The Cuban embargo would probably have ended by now, and relatedly immigration policy regarding Cubans would probably have lost its special status. If this was the case and we had found accommodation with Cuba, Miami might not be what it is today, and the Castros might not be in power either.