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In the year since his succession to the Presidency, Lyndon Johnson has so ingeniously manipulated national politics that he currently enjoys an endorsement he hopes may bring a return to the Era of Good Feeling. In his native Texas, he enjoys the same widely divergent support that he does on a national scale but there it has created more chaos than good feeling. The warring elements of the Democratic Party, the liberals and conservatives, have rarely been so confused.
Johnson inherited from Kennedy not only the White House but a liberal program and the leadership of a liberal party. In Texas, President Johnson--like Vice-President Johnson and Senator Johnson before him--was master of the conservative wing of that party; his friends were conservatives, his benefactors were conservatives, his patronage went to conservatives.
His voting record in the Senate had always been relatively liberal and his sentiment on national issues was the same, but at home he was an undoubted conservative. He protected the oil depletion allowance more assiduously than he ever espoused liberal ideas and the political machinery he had masterfully welded had few elements that were not right of center.
The liberal wing was led by Senator Ralph Yarborough and the animosity between Johnson and Yarborough was both deep and dramatic. It was during President Kennedy's trip to Texas, in fact, that this rivalry reached some of its most heated moments. There was substantial fear among the liberals that the money being raised by the chief political event on the President's schedule, a $100 a plate dinner to be held November 23rd, would be used by the conservatives to unseat Yarborough and keep liberals out of state offices. The Senator had even refused to ride in the same car with the Vice-President until Kennedy ordered him to do so in Dallas.
But when Lyndon Johnson was elevated to the Presidency the situation in Texas was clouded. As it became clear that Johnson would carry on the Kennedy program and, indeed, enlarge upon it and get it passed, most of the liberals of Texas found themselves supporting the man they had so often opposed.
Within the state, however, Johnson's conservative associates were doing business as usual. John Connally, as Governor, was the ranking member of the state party and also headed its conservative element. Although he served for a short time as Secretary of the Navy in the Kennedy government, his campaign for Governor had been based on an essentially anti-Kennedy platform; he was opposed to the civil rights bill, to Medicare, and to many other key points in the New Frontier.
At the same time he was one of Johnson's oldest and closest allies. "I love him like a brother," Johnson once said, "I love him more than I do Sam Houston." Like Johnson, Connally had often quarreled with Ralph Yarborough but, unlike Johnson, had not settled his differences with him. When Don Yarborough, a fellow liberal and close associate of Ralph Yarborough's but no relation, announced that he would again oppose Connally in the Democratic Primary, Connally was gravely offended and decided to launch a major attack on the liberals.
His first task, of course, was to find an opponent for Ralph Yarborough which he did by persuading conservative Joe Kilgore to run for the Senate rather than for re-election to Congress. Then the Governor of Texas received a telephone call from the President of the United States and Kilgore withdrew. Senator Yarborough was left with only one opponent, a Dallas broadcaster who conducted one of the dirtiest campaigns of recent times but lost none-theless.
The rift between Johnson and Connally was short-lived but it was enough to encourage the liberals considerably. They concluded that the President was committed to a liberal program and wanted to see men elected to the Senate who would support that program. They hoped also that he might be remembering the lessons he learned as a protege to Franklin Roosevelt.
They sometimes suggested that perhaps his ancient support for local conservatives was based on the fact that Johnson was a pragmatic politician with a basically conservative constituency; now that the entire nation was his electorate Johnson could pursue his liberal views more freely. And a number of them believed that the Presidency had washed away the clinging conservatives and made him clean.
"The only thing left for Lyndon Johnson," a leading Texas liberal said recently, "is for history to remember him in a fine sort of way." In order to achieve this remembrance, it was reasoned, Johnson would tackle the greatest problems of the day: peace, poverty, civil rights. The solution to these problems are inevitably liberal ones and so the liberals were encouraged.
But at the same time there was the nagging problem of local politics. Governor Connally was handily re-elected, garnering an immense sympathy vote for his having been wounded when President Kennedy was killed. He then set about to increase his hold on the Texas Democratic Party. In all the significant counties of the state, the Connally forces and the liberals battled to gain control of the delegations to the state convention.
In San Antonio, where the liberals are stronger than any place else in Texas, Connally's supporters were greatly out-numbered at the county convention and so they walked out, held a rump convenion, and named their own delegates to the state convention. The Connally-dominated credentials committee at the State Convention seated the illegitimate delegation and Connally's control was complete. At county conventions where liberals prevailed, resolutions had been passed endorsing President Johnson and his program; where Connally prevailed, the President was endorsed but never his program.
By controlling the state convention, Connally also gained control of the Texas delegation to the Democratic National Convention and a conservative delegation it was: one of Texas' representatives on the platform committee was Price Daniel, a former Governor who enacted three anticivil rights bills during his time in office. Connally is also systematically removing the liberals from the state Democratic Executive Committee.
The President has so far attempted to remain outwardly aloof from the conflicts in Texas. He did choose Governor Connally to place his name in nomination at the Atlantic City convention but that was natural enough since Connally was chairman of the delegation from Johnson's home state. He has also gone to great lengths to cement his relations with Ralph Yarborough and there is no doubt that the Senator wholeheartedly supports him.
And Texas Too?
There is some possibility that Johnson will succeed in staying out of the fights in Texas even after the election; "he's got the world now," a friend of his has said, "why should he bother with Texas?" But the in-fighting may grow so intense that he will be forced to intercede, for Johnson has no fondness for unmended fences.
In spite of these squabbles, the Johnson-Humphrey ticket will carry Texas by a better margin than the Kennedy-Johnson ticket did and might even win sixty per cent of the vote. A private poll conducted in bellwether sections of the state indicates that he is doing handsomely in all areas except in low income, non-Negro neighborhoods where there is some evidence of heavy "white backlash" sentiment.
He will retain much of his old conservative support and in so doing will deliver a major set-back to Texas Republicans who had ironically based all their hopes on a ticket headed by Barry Goldwater. And he will carry virtually all the liberals either because they have the high hope that he will be a great President, in the Roosevelt fashion, or because they recognize him as much the better of two evils.
The year of pointed confusion for Texas that has followed the assassination of John Kennedy may well be succeeded by some bitter times for that province. Either the conservatives or the liberals will have been wrong in supporting Lyndon Johnson.
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