Philip Klinkner

An article by Phil Klinkner, the James S. Sherman Memorial Professor of Political Science and Professor of Government, was recently published by The Conversation. Titled “Hopes that Biden will quit his reelection campaign ignore the differences – and lessons – of LBJ and 1968’s Democratic catastrophe,” the article compares the current political climate to that of 1968, when in March of that year, President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election.

Pointing to a key issue dividing the Democratic Party in 1968 – the war in Vietnam – Klinkner referenced a Gallup poll conducted early that year showing that 53% of Americans thought the war was the most important problem facing the nation at that time.  

“Today, many Democrats oppose Biden’s support for Israel’s military campaign against Hamas, but it’s easy to overstate this division,” Klinkner wrote, noting that in a recent Gallup poll, only 1% of Americans think the nation’s top problem is the war in the Middle East.

Furthermore, “no prominent Democrats have chosen to oppose [Biden] for the party nomination,” he said. “In contrast, differences over the Vietnam War and other issues led two sitting U.S. senators, Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and Robert F. Kennedy of New York, to challenge Johnson for the Democratic nomination.

“Johnson’s withdrawal failed to unify the party,” Klinkner said, and though it seems very unlikely that Biden will drop out of the race, “for those who hope Biden will do so anyway, they should be careful what they wish for.

“McCarthy, Kennedy and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who joined the race after Johnson’s exit, fought a bitter battle for the nomination,” he wrote. “Tensions exploded during that year’s Democratic convention in Chicago,” and “Americans watched on live television as police brutally beat anti-war demonstrators in the streets outside the convention hall.”

Though Humphrey won the nomination, Klinkner said “his candidacy was deeply wounded” and he lost the election to Richard Nixon.

“Should Biden decide not to run, Democrats might face a similar situation,” he opined.

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