“If You Win, We’ll All Describe You as Political Geniuses”

In 1968 I was a Congressional Fellow in the office of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. I had been working as a journalist for eight years; the fellowship was designed to give journalists and political scientists exposure to the workings of the national government.

In March, after President Lyndon Johnson said he would not run for re-election, Humphrey became a presidential candidate and I became, in effect, an assistant press secretary. I traveled with the writing press; the press secretary traveled with the Vice President, another aide traveled with the broadcast press.

I had never been near the inside of a political campaign and at times I was stunned by the chaos and disorganization. The weekend before the Tuesday election, we were on a plane and I was talking with Max Frankel, then the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times.

It had been a chaotic last few days and I said to Frankel, “Max, if we win, how are we going to run the country? We can’t run a political campaign.”

He said, “Don’t worry, Jack. If you win, we’ll all describe you as political geniuses.”
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Back then there was a fair amount of off the record conversation between a political campaign staff and the press and, for better or worse, a lot of internal workings of a political campaign—often chaotic—never got reported.

Journalists like Max Frankel, Walter Mears, Jack Germond, David Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite set a check-it-out tone for political reporting. Now every rumor spreads as clickbait across the Internet.

With Wikileaks releasing thousands of hacked emails from John Podesta, head of the Clinton campaign, will he be described as a political genius if Clinton wins? Kellyanne Conway, the head of the Trump campaign?

In March 2016, Donald Trump said, “Victory is presidential.”

Probably not this year.

Comments

  1. Norman Sherman, Vice President Humphrey’s press secretary in 1968, says, “I have tried to imagine a Humphrey Tweet. I can’t.”

  2. Ervin S. Duggan says

    When I worked in the LBJ. White House, I heard a student ask Mac Bundy, “What is the chief qualification to be President?” Bundy answered, without missing a beat, “The ability to campaign and win.” I thought Bundy’s answer was flippant and cynical, but over the years I have come to realize that there is much truth in Bundy’s statement. Why? Because, first of all, a presidential campaign is a pretty good X-ray of a candidate’s character, views and capabilities. And second ( though less important), the media and populace bestow a sort of coronation upon any winning candidate, launching a honeymoon which however brief, confers a sort of legitimacy upon the new president-elect.

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