and the Transformation of American Politics (2017)
However, on the hustings (the campaign trail), Humphrey’s popularity lagged behind McCarthy’s, and the Vice-President constantly heard “We Want Gene” and “Dump the Hump”. Humphrey’s crowds were often sparse, and on college campuses / inner cities, the crowds were even abusive. Humphrey was very nervous about keeping his pledged delegates from defecting to McCarthy, or even the independent candidate for President, Alabama’s Democratic Governor, George Wallace. Humphrey believed that he could not win the nomination without LBJ’s support, and the President wasn’t reassuring; LBJ preferred to keep Humphrey in suspense, which was his normal approach. After RFK’s assassination, LBJ felt no need to soften his stance on Vietnam to help Humphrey with the anti-war crowd.
Normally the committee meetings before the convention are pro forma (non-events), but not in 1968, where each committee found itself battling for what they considered to be the soul of the Democratic Party; the future of political conventions were changed forever that summer. The Rules Committee chickened out and allowed the delegates decide on the “Unit Rule”, which allowed state delegations to go winner-take-all for the state delegation’s preference for a candidate. McCarthy wanted the Unit Rule abolished since it was an obvious advantage for Humphrey. And, much to the astonishment of Democratic power brokers, Humphrey wanted the Unit Rule abolished as well. What hurt Humphrey was that it was mostly likely organizational ineptitude that led to his campaign’s opposition to the Unit Rule, and to the Democratic bosses, it looked like Humphrey didn’t have much of a clue as to what was occurring.
In 1964, Rauh challenged the credentials of the Mississippi delegation in that he wanted the delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Party recognized. Rauh remembered Humphrey’s promise that segregated delegations would not be seated in 1968. Rauh wanted to challenge the Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama delegations along those lines, and he hoped to replace them w/ delegates loyal to McCarthy. And, if the Southern delegations were no longer in a unified bloc, then the result could be a brokered convention. If Humphrey allowed the MS, GA, and AL delegations to be seated, then he would be allowing the ultra-conservative wing of the Democratic Party to flex their political muscles.
19 August 1968 was the first meeting of the Credentials Committee, and they faced an unprecedented and unheard of number of challenges. McCarthy’s campaign challenged 15 state delegations, including northern states such as Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota. Humphrey joined McCarthy in challenging the Mississippi delegation in that this time he knew the challenge would be successful, and Humphrey didn’t want to expend any energy in fighting what was going to be inevitable. The Credentials Committee decided to split Georgia’s segregated delegation 50/50 between white delegates and the challenge delegates put forth by Georgia state representative Julian Bond. Humphrey had nothing to lose in supporting the challenge against Georgia in that the state was going to vote for Wallace.
On 24 August 1968, the Credentials Committee voted 84-10 to deny the segregated Mississippi delegation and to replace them with delegates evenly split among McCarthy and Humphrey. With Georgia and Mississippi taken care of, the Credentials Committee was able to stop any challenges to the northern delegations, just as Rauh had predicted.
The battle in the Platform Committee far exceeded what occurred in the Credentials Committee. The platform is the written outline of the party’s position on the issues and the promises of what the party’s candidate hopes to achieve once in office. Platforms are usually bland and vague in order to avoid contradictions/violations once the candidate has been elected, but after the New Hampshire primary, it was certain that there would be a huge showdown on the Platform Committee concerning the Vietnam War.
McCarthy wanted a “Peace Plank” in the Democratic Party Platform for 1968, and Humphrey wanted whatever LBJ would allow. Preliminary talks between the US and North Vietnam began on 10 May 1968 in Paris, and while LBJ had ordered a temporary bombing halt, North Vietnam refused to negotiate until LBJ made a promise to stop bombing altogether.
So, on 10 May 1968, the US and North Vietnam were the only ones at the negotiating table in Paris . . . and the delegations of the two nations literally argued about the shape/size of the table that would be used. North Vietnam wanted a large circular table so everyone was equal (there would be no “Head of the Table”). South Vietnam, using the US delegation as its proxy, wanted a rectangular table so they and North Vietnam would be across from each other, and so that there would be no room for the Viet Cong. At that pace, there would be no progress before the Election of 1968, so no progress in Paris meant all the more pressure on the Democratic Party as it prepared for its national convention in Chicago . . .