RFK, Shot 44 Years Ago Today: Definitive, Indisputable Answers to 5 "What Ifs?" About His Political Future
He had just won the California primary and ended his victory speech with "And now it's on to Chicago and let's win there!"
But would he have won there? Would he have beaten Richard Nixon? Let's take a look at four what-ifs and provide you with the answers. The answers are definitive, because as we all know, if RFK was anything, it was predictable. (Right?) They are depressing to us, but we call 'em like we see 'em.
(By the way, if you ever want to win a quick bar bet, ask what the F in RFK stands for. It's Francis, not Fitzgerald.)
4. Would he have won in Chicago?
Nineteen sixty-eight was the last gasp of big-boss politics running the convention (a revolution that led to the disastrous McGovern nomination in 1972.) Hubert Humphrey had all the bosses lined up, and it would have been very, very tough for Kennedy to pry their delegates today.
While Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was a big RFK fan, the official ruling on this is that after a riotous and wrackingly tense convention that split the party, Humphrey would have held on to the nomination and left Kennedy supporters embittered.
3. If he had won the nomination, would he have defeated Nixon?
In this scenario it's the party bosses embittered, and although they were old pros who knew how to switch sides, many of them were still uncomfortable with the damn hippie types they thought they saw among Kennedy supporters.
The `70s: The Reagan Era
Humphrey and Nixon ran a race that was extremely close in the popular vote, but in the electoral college Nixon won 302-191. Switch some likely states to RFK (here's an interactive map that lets you fool around) -- say Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- and Kennedy is still six electoral-college votes from the 270 needed to win.
Maybe he could have picked off Wisconsin's 12 votes. But Humphrey won Texas, thanks to LBJ's help. Whether Johnson would have done as much for a man he detested (and was detested by) is doubtful.
2. If he had won, would the U.S. have gotten out of Vietnam a hell of a lot sooner?
1. Would he have won re-election?
Maybe the Camelot magic would have returned, maybe the ability to divert Vietnam funds to effective poverty-fighting efforts would have kept the wave of riots from happening, maybe no Vietnam would have meant the end to campus protests.
But there's little doubt RFK's term would be a turbulent one, and minorities would still be pressing for their rights, and kids would still be wearing long hair and doing drugs and disrespecting their elders, and this would all be blamed on the appalling leniency of the Kennedy administration.
Right-leaning voters, including many who had voted Democrat once, would tire of the social desecration that they would be constantly reminded was happening everywhere in America. They would look to someone who represented the old values and could eloquently defend them. Someone who had tentatively dipped a toe in the presidential waters in 1968.
The '70s, and not the '80s, would have been the Ronald Reagan Era.