Perhaps you’ve seen what’s called the “Daisy” ad – a 1964 political spot for TV produced by LBJ’s campaign that juxtaposed a little girl and a nuclear launch. It was so powerful and controversial, it was shown only once on television.
Far less remembered, but perhaps more politically devastating, was another ad produced by the Johnson team: this one was called “Confessions of a Republican.”
The man he refers to, of course, is Barry Goldwater. But if it made you think of another more recent presidential contest, you’re not alone.
Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, wrote “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress and the Battle for the Great Society.”
“Some Democrats are hoping that (Trump) actually scares Republicans away from the ballot box,” Zelizer says. “Either away from voting or – more optimistic Democrats hope, like with Goldwater – that some Republicans actually decide to vote Democratic, because they’re too scared of the Republican nominee actually being in the White House.”
Going into the Democratic Convention in 1964, a lot of Democrats worried that Lyndon B. Johnson would lose Democratic votes because Southerners wouldn’t forgive him for supporting the Civil Rights Act in 1964. LBJ, then, focused on his opponent.
“He spread a different message,” Zelizer says. “He said that because Barry Goldwater – this right-wing extremist who was a bit unstable, he said – was going to be a Republican nominee, there was going to be a ‘frontlash’ of Republicans who would move toward the Democratic party because of this.”
LBJ told his advisors that he’d gain more votes than he’d lose because of this “frontlash” – a term he asked his team to spread to the media in August 1964, leading up to the general election. “He was optimistic – he was going to win votes from the Republicans,” Zelizer says.
Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton will likely replicate aspects of LBJ’s 1964 campaign, including ads and messages like that in “Confessions of a Republican,” in her campaign against Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“You hear Republicans themselves raise questions and bring up doubts about whether Trump is stable enough to be in the White House,” Zelizer says.
Clinton has already taken a very specific strategy from the LBJ campaign – the argument that the opposing candidate can’t be trusted to have control of nuclear weapons.
“Lyndon Johnson did this with Barry Goldwater all the time in ’64 – the daisy ad, that was the exact message that the Johnson campaign wanted to spread,” he says. “We’ve already heard this from Clinton and I think that she’s going to use it against Trump many more times.”
The final similarity between the 1964 and 2016 campaigns is that Democrat campaigners can draw attention to the Republican candidate’s “ties to extremist elements in the electorate,” Zelizer says. In another famous TV ad, LBJ mentioned Goldwater’s endorsement from a KKK leader.
“There’s plenty of that that they can do with Donald Trump,” he says.
Post prepared by Hannah McBride.