On the night of March 12, 1968, TV audiences saw an American presidency of monumental proportions begin to crumble before their eyes.
The occasion was the New Hampshire presidential preference primary, the “first in the nation” primary that has long been a tradition in the Granite State.
There have been other dramatic outcomes in New Hampshire, both before and since, scuttling careers and altering the political landscape. But none has shaken the earth like the results of 1968.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was the president, having assumed the job when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. Johnson had then won a term in his own right in 1964 with one of the biggest popular-vote landslides in U.S. history.
Johnson had strong-armed Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, as well as the Great Society programs such as Medicare. When New Hampshire held its primary in 1968, Johnson was the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination for another term.
But Johnson was also the president who had dramatically escalated the U.S. commitment to war in Vietnam, after saying he would not “send American boys to do what Asian boys should be doing.”
On this day, in this New England state, he would pay the price for that decision. He would end the evening with his political fate in free fall.