In one of the most crushing victories in the history of U.S. presidential elections, incumbent Lyndon Baines Johnson defeats Republican challenger Barry Goldwater, Sr. With over 60 percent of the popular vote, Johnson turned back the conservative senator from Arizona to secure his first full term in office after succeeding to the presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963.
During the 1964 campaign, Goldwater was decidedly critical of Johnson’s liberal domestic agenda, railing against welfare programs and defending his own decision to vote against the Civil Rights Act passed by Congress earlier that year. However, some of the most dramatic differences between the two candidates appeared over the issue of Cold War foreign policy.
The Republican angrily charged Johnson and the Democratic Party with having given in to communist aggression, pointedly referring to the existence of Castro’s communist Cuba 90 miles off America’s shore. On more than one occasion, Goldwater seemed to suggest that he would not be above using nuclear weapons on both Cuba and North Vietnam to achieve U.S. objectives. Johnson’s advisers, of course, did all they could to portray Goldwater as a saber-rattling warmonger, who would bring the world to nuclear annihilation if elected. The President countered his opponent’s challenges by portraying himself as a model of statesman-like restraint.
Concerning Vietnam, he mollified domestic concerns about a possible war by claiming that he would not send “American boys nine or ten thousand miles from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”Johnson’s statement satisfied many Americans, but any commitment he may have had about avoiding direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict was already eroding by the time of the 1964 election. Four months after his victory, Johnson committed U.S. combat troops to Vietnam.
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