On the eve of the midterm elections, Americans are nervous about foreign interference, especially since we still have not resolved just how much Russia interfered in the 2016 elections and whether they colluded with President Trump’s campaign. Amazingly, however, whatever special counsel Robert S. Mueller III finds, the Russian interference in 2016 won’t be the most jaw-dropping case of foreign involvement in an American election.
The reason: In 1968, Richard Nixon sought help from South Vietnam to defeat Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey. And when President Lyndon B. Johnson learned of this “treason,” he did nothing to reveal or halt it — because he wanted his own vice president to lose.
Johnson’s animosity toward Hubert Humphrey revealed itself as soon as the latter started his term as vice president. In February 1965, the newly sworn-in vice president warned Johnson against expanding the Vietnam conflict. In a memo, he argued that the war was unwinnable militarily and that the public, especially the Great Society political coalition, would not support a war based on a vague “national security” claim for long. Humphrey held that the best time to settle was now, following Johnson’s landslide victory in November 1964, which included a pledge of no wider war.
Humphrey’s memo proved prescient, but it infuriated the president, who in near-paranoid fashion presumed his vice president had written it to leak later, in the event he needed political cover. Between 1965 and 1967, Johnson exerted great pressure on Humphrey to support his expansion. Ever loyal, Humphrey became a spokesman for the war as a means of halting North Vietnam’s aggression and bringing Great Society measures to South Vietnam.
In 1968, growing opposition to the war forced Johnson to the sidelines. But the president remained determined to shape the conversation about Vietnam. He threatened to “destroy” Humphrey, then heading toward securing the Democratic nomination to succeed Johnson, if he parted from administration policy by proposing a bombing halt intended to spur peace talks. ...