Horace Busby: Lyndon Johnson was aware by Nov. 4, 1963 while he was out of the country in Luxembourg that the Kennedys had sent a SWAT team of FORTY national reporters to Texas to utterly destroy him
A mirthless smile played across the vice president’s lips, and he seem almost apologetic. “You may not believe what’s happening, but you may as well know.” Then he began relating what he had been learning from Walter Jenkins.
On Monday, as the vice president arrived in Luxembourg, teams of newsmen from major national publications began arriving almost simultaneously in Austin and Johnson City, as well as the major metropolitian centers of Texas. None of the reporters were known figures of the Washington press corps, but upward of forty correspondents thus far had been identified in different parts of the state. At first, when the newsmen began making their presence known, it was assumed that they were arriving to do advance stories on President Kennedy’s visit. One of the senior figures, however, quickly revealed the true purpose. Talking with an attorney whom he mistakenly believed to be a Johnson enemy, the newsman said: “We’re here to do a job on Lyndon Johnson. When we get through with the sonofabitch, Kennedy won’t be able to touch him with a ten-foot pole in 1964.”
It appeared to be a dragnet operation. The investigative teams were spreading out over the state, talking with attorneys, bankers, businessmen, and known political enemies of the vice president. Four or five publications were represented, but many questions from the different teams were almost identical. Evidently, someone had compiled and distributed a master dossier on the vice president’s twenty-six-year career in rough-and-tumble Texas politics; some questions, for example, involved campaign charges dating back to before World War II. “Whoever’s behind it,” the vice president conceded, “has done one hell of a thorough job.”
[Horace Busby, The Thirty-First of March, pp. 129-130]
Longtime LBJ aide, speechwriter and friend Horace Busby, describes how Lyndon Johnson had seen up close and personal previous vice presidents removed from the party ticket and vice presidency.
This was an old and popular game of power in Washington. “Dumping the vice president” began with Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president, who was removed from the Republican ticket in 1864 largely because of President Lincoln’s own petulance and jealousy. Most vice presidents since had experienced the threat. During his own career in Washington, Lyndon Johnson had seen FDR’s first two vice president’s, John Nance Garner and Henry A. Wallace, “dumped” at Democratic conventions, and he had empathized with Vice President Richard M. Nixon in 1956, when a White House cabal had almost succeeded in persuading President Dwight Eisenhower to select a new running mate for the second term.
In those cases, the patterns were strikingly similar. Attacks against the incumbents cam from within the “palace guard” at the White House or from among the power brokers in control of the party; in each instance, the objective was to control the line of succession – to dictate who would take over the party and perhaps the White House upon completion of the incumbent president’s term. The stakes had never been the vice presidency – that was virtually an irrelevancy – but, rather, the presidency itself.
When the vice president paused in his monologue, I asked the obvious question. The simultaneous arrival of the various teams of newsmen, the similarity of their dossiers and of our questions, the commonality of their revealed purposes – these things wer not coincidence. “Who,” I asked “is orchestrating this?”
Lyndon Johnson made a face. He tucked his chin down, frowned and shook his head reprovingly, as though dealing with a youngster. “Buzz,” he said, pretending to be surprised, “you’ve been around too long to have to ask a question like that.”
Of course I was not asking from ignorance or innocence. At any level of politics, one always knows the adversaries; at the level of the vice presidency, involved as that office is with the intrigues of the reigning court, sensitivity rises far higher. But my question was purposeful. For three years, since the election in November, 1960, Lyndon Johnson had sealed his lips; even in the most private and confidential conversation, he would not permit himself to acknowledge that he had critics, detractors, or adversaries anywhere within the new administration. The principle might be commendable. “Nothing and nobody,” he explained, “is ever going to divide the president and me, and I’m not going to say anything to anybody, not even my wife, that might get back to the president and cause him a moment’s concern.” The discipline was exacting and inflexible, but it irritated some of us close to the vice president: he carried it, we thought, to the point of unreality. I wanted to draw him out.
“You mean –” I began, but he did not permit me to finish my question.
“I don’t mean anybody,” he snapped. “You can guess the answer, dammit, but I’m not about to start naming names.”
[Horace Busby, The Thirty-First of March, pp. 131-132]
Longtime LBJ aide and friend Horace Busby describes Lyndon Johnson, on Friday, Nov. 8 in Brussels, Belgian being extremely concerned about the nature of his potential “exit line” from the Kennedy Administration
As we passed the darkness of an ancient cathedral, he stopped abruptly, pushed his hat far back on his head, and turned toward me.
“Buzz,” he said, “I’ve had a good run of it. I’ve done a lot more and come a lot farther than anybody who came from where I come ever had any right to expect.” Agent Kivett had approached closely, checking whether some assistance might be needed. The vice president turned and glowered until he moved on out of earshot, then Lyndon Johnson leaned in very close, until his face almost touched mine, and his clenched fists began pumping up and down.
“If they want me to go, all they have to do is say so and I’ll be gone in five minutes.” His voice fell to a hoarse and confidential whisper. “I don’t care about that, it’s their business. What I do care about, my friend, is one thing.” He stopped and stood erect, turning to look in all directions. The street and the sidewalk were empty except for the two of us and Jerry Kivett, now half a block away. The vice president leaned in close again. Lips set tight, he spoke firmly. “I care about the exit line.”
[Horace Busby, The Thirty-First of March, pp. 134-135]
Longtime LBJ aide Horace Busby on the torrent of rumors and inquiries from reporters in mid November,1963 that JFK was going to drop Lyndon Johnson from the 1964 ticket
In Washington, where I had remained, rumors ran amuck. Each day newsmen were calling George Reedy or Walter Jenkins or myself to check out the stories – always on “good authority” – that President Kennedy’s purpose in planning to spend the night at the LBJ Ranch was to break the news that Lyndon Johnson would not be on the ticket in 1964. When we traced these stories back to their sources, the origins lay not at the White House or among Kennedy intimates but among Texans in Washington friendly to Senator Yarborough. Repetition, nonetheless, had its effect, intensifying tensions, magnifying worries, expanding out imagination of what might go wrong on the Texas journey.”
[Horace Busby, The Thirty-First of March, pp. 139]
Longtime LBJ aide and speechwriter Horace Busby describes how he, his wife and the “Johnson men” were opposed to a motorcade for JFK in Dallas because of the vitriolic right wing atmosphere
Mary V. handed me the front page of a recent issue. “Read this,” she said. “Someone has lost their mind.” It was a story announcing that, on his visit to Dallas, President Kennedy would ride in an open-car motorcade from Love Field to the site of his luncheon address.
“I can’t imagine your friends in the Secret Service letting the president do that,” she said. I agreed with her. The thought of physical danger to the president did not occur. Our memories were still fresh, though, of 1960, when the vice president and Mrs. Johnson were mobbed in a Dallas hotel lobby. An ugliness had crept into Dallas politics which perplexed many Texans. Only a few weeks earlier there had been a nasty attack on Ambassador Adlai Stevenson when he spoke there. An open-car motorcade was an obvious invitiation for more episodes – ugly signs, jeering chants, or perhaps an egg tossed at the presidential limousine.
The next day I voiced my concern to Walter Jenkins and learned that he shared it. In fact, he told me, Governor Connally, Cliff Carter and all the Johnson men participating in plans for the Kennedy visit were counseling against the Dallas motorcade. But our interests and the interests of the Kennedy people were hopelessly at odds. We were thinking, selfishly perhaps, of avoiding street incidents which would acutely embarrass Vice President Johnson.
[Horace Busby, The Thirty-First of March, pp. 140]
On Friday, all those concerns would come together – the president’s ride through Dallas, the ticket sales for the fund-raising dinner at Austin, the climax at the LBJ Ranch after the politicking was done. November 22 was a day we all faced with dread.
On Thursday, November 21, I lunched with Leonard Marks at a club frequented by Washington’s television and radio reporters. Since my conversation with the vice president in Brussels, I had come to a gloomy but inescapable conclusion that Lyndon Johnson’s days in that office were numbered; if the end did not come the following day in Texas, ugly times were clearly ahead for us all in Washington. I did not want to be around; the toll of peripheral involvement in palace politics was too great.
[Horace Busby, The Thirty-First of March, pp. 141]
Longtime LBJ aide and friend Horace Busby and his secretary Patty Scott were on pins and needles in Washington, DC as they worried over JFK’s reception in Dallas in real time on Nov. 22, 1963
… with my secretary, Patty Scott, I remained at the office, buckling down to meet the early evening deadline for my copy. Patty had recently come to Washington from Dallas; she shared my concern over President Kennedy’s reception in the city. As the time neared for the presidential party to arrive at Love Field, she began an almost continuous vigil over the Teletype machine. We kidded each other about our Texas paranoia, but Patty remained anxious. “You never know what those kooks are going to do,” she said.
Then it came: the longest, the most unreal, the most terrible minute I had ever known.
[Horace Busby, The Thirty-First of March, pp. 142]