As Kennedy’s re-election campaign gets going in earnest, three main challengers on the Republican side duel each other, with varying degrees of commitment, for the nomination to oppose him. Each of them—Rockefeller, Goldwater and Lodge—is hobbled by a different problem that makes them unattractive to a crucial segment of the Republican party they need to win. Meanwhile, Kennedy’s serious health issues begin to impinge on the campaign, and civil rights leaders, disillusioned by his lack of leadership on advancing their goals, fall out with one another, with some wondering if traditional politics has reached the limits of its effectiveness.
Basically the entire broad arc of the Age of Confusion storyline is based on a series of simulations of Presidential elections, utilizing political scientist Allen Lichtman’s “Thirteen Keys to the Presidency” formula originally published in the 1980s. This episode is the first of those simulations. Since we’re still close-in to the departure point of our alternate historical timeline, the political landscape in Age of Confusion’s America still looks much the same as it did in the real 1964, with, of course, the major difference that it is Kennedy himself, rather than his successor Lyndon Johnson, at the top of the ticket.
The accounts of the Republican candidates’ political problems going into the election is generally accurate. Though Goldwater did get the nomination in real life, it’s by no means certain that it’s inevitable, and he might not have if Kennedy had survived. The Republican Party of the early 1960s was almost totally different from what it looks like today, and thus the politics of the conservative movement as portrayed here may seem strange from today’s vantage points—but the “County Club” and “Eastern Establishment” Republicans were very much a thing at that time, and Goldwater’s brand of conservatism might never have broken into the mainstream if Kennedy had been on the ticket in 1964.
Next Episode: April 11, 2021