There is a lot of reminiscing going on about the anniversary of the tragic assassination of Robert Kennedy. Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg, for instance, asks today “what if 1968 never happened?” and plays “a little What If.” He writes:
It’s virtually certain that Kennedy would not have won the Democratic nomination for president in Chicago. In the pre-reform system, winning a few primaries just wasn’t that important. As long as Lyndon Johnson backed Hubert Humphrey, Humphrey had the delegates necessary to win.
But with Kennedy alive, the disastrous convention might well have been very different, especially if (as Nelson W. Polsby once speculated) Kennedy had been offered and accepted the vice presidential nod. With that, the Democrats would have been able to come a lot closer to being united at their convention, and it’s hardly implausible that a Humphrey/Kennedy ticket might have defeated Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.
The substantive changes had Humphrey won would likely have been enormous. The Vietnam War would almost certainly have ended much more quickly. Great Society programs would have (at least) had another four years of strong White House support. Nixon wound up putting four justices on the Supreme Court during his first term; presumably the two most liberal Humphrey picks would have been at least as liberal as Lewis Powell and Harry Blackmun, and the other two would have been far more liberal than Warren Burger and William Rehnquist.
It is the Humphrey tie that strikes me. It reminds me a of a photo of my Dad and Vice President Humphery that was taken during a campaign visit by Humphry to St. Louis in 1968.