Lyndon B. Johnson had only been in office for a few months following the assassination of President Kennedy when he found himself on the campaign trail, mired in election year politics as he fought to stay in office.
His opponent was Arizona Governor Barry Goldwater, a staunch conservative who fancied himself as representing the values of the “good ol’ days,” unimpressed by the social changes looming across the country. Goldwater focused on the spectre of the Soviet Union and the associated spread of Communism. More than once from the stump he railed that he would make North Vietnam into a “mud puddle” once he was commander-in-chief. Goldwater also decried the scourge of the “welfare state,” saying that the proliferation of entitlement programs would be the end of America as good, law-abiding Americans knew it.
Johnson, meanwhile, staked his campaign on what he called the “Great Society” — a series of programs designed to reduce poverty. He was also very determined to improve civil rights.
This political ad was designed to paint Goldwater as a loose cannon — one with an itchy nuke trigger finger.
The ad worked. Johnson’s victory over Goldwater in the national election remains the most lopsided in terms of popular votes (43 million to 27 million) and the sixth-most lopsided in terms of electoral votes (486 to 52). Johnson won all but six states (Arizona, which was Goldwater’s home state) and the Bible Belt from Louisiana to Georgia (primarily due to LBJ’s civil rights efforts).
Although Goldwater was embarrassed by the election results, his politics did become the framework for the current Conservative movement as well as the Libertarian Party.