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LISTEN: "Nixon Will Do Better By You"
On November 2, 1968, President Johnson called Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen to say that he knew Nixon's people were inserting themselves in the peace-talk process with the Vietnamese. Their message to South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu was to stay away from the peace talks—that they would get a better deal from Nixon further down the road, as he was sure to be elected. Do what you can to get them to back off, LBJ told Dirksen. If this activity, which he flatly characterized as "treason," continued, LBJ threatened to go public with what he knew.
The next day LBJ spoke with Nixon himself, but the conversation could not have been more different in tone. He begins by reiterating his three conditions for a bombing halt, before turning to the talk of interference in the peace talks. LBJ tells Nixon that the word has gone out that the South Vietnamese will be better off if they deal with the Republican nominee rather than the current administration. LBJ assures Nixon he knows Nixon had nothing to do with this. Nixon assures LBJ he didn't. Both men are lying.
This fascinating conversation between two master politicians is a crucial moment in Ken Hughes's Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate, an explosive new addition to presidential scholarship that will be published on July 29.You may read the transcript of the Johnson-Nixon exchange below or listen to the recorded conversation
LBJ: Now, the other day, we had talked to [Nguyen Van] Thieu on October the 13th, and stressed that we had to have these points, and he agreed. On October the 15th, we reviewed it with him again, and he bought a 36-hour period between stopping the bombing and the conference. On October the 23rd, he agreed to a three-day delay.
LBJ: On October the 28th, we agreed to the communiqué, that we would both make a joint announcement—
LBJ: —when and if we could clear it with them, get them signed on.
LBJ: Then the traffic goes out that Nixon will do better by you. Now, that goes to Thieu. I don't—I didn't say, as I said to you the other day, I didn’t say that it was with your knowledge. I hope it wasn't.
Nixon: [laughing] Ah, no.
Nixon: Well, as a matter of fact, I'm not privy to the—what you were doing, of course, with this thing, but—
Nixon: The whole point is this. I think one thing we have to understand here is that, you know, and I know, that within the—there's a hawk-dove complex out there as there is here, and that everybody's been saying, "Well, now, after the election, what will happen?" And of course there is some thought that Hanoi would rather deal now than deal later.
LBJ: Oh, yes.
Nixon: They think Nixon will be tougher, and I understand that. And I think that's one of the reasons you felt you had to go forward with the pause. But my point that I'm making is this: that my God, I would never do anything to encourage Hanoi—I mean, Saigon not to come to the table, because, basically, that was what you got out of your bombing pause, that, good God, we want them over in Paris. We've got to get them to Paris or you can't have a peace.
LBJ: Well, I think if you take that position, you're on very, very sound ground and—
Nixon: That’s what I said on—
LBJ: I think it's very much in the interest of your—
Nixon: I said that the major thing that the President insisted upon and got was the right of Saigon to be at that conference table. [President Johnson attempts to interject.] And they must be at the conference table and I believe they should be, and then that's why I said that—I just felt that I ought to emphasize it—I said that I know that nobody knows who's going to win this, but if I do, I said, if I’m president-elect, I personally pledge to President Johnson I would do anything, and I want to amplify that by—emphasize it by saying that I will do—if he and Secretary [Dean] Rusk indicate that my presence in Paris or Saigon, and, incidentally, I want you to know I'll do that. I'd go out there and talk to Thieu if it's necessary.
LBJ: Well, I think that—I—
Nixon: [Unclear] or whatever you want. [Unclear]—
Chasing Shadows will be available july 29.