Barnes’ climb up the political ladder was as impressive as it is instructive. Taking bipartisanship to heart, he got along with almost everyone, although not without making a few costly mistakes along the way. He also treated every event as a learning opportunity. After the assassination of John Kennedy, a meeting with now President Johnson and Connolly, where they fought over what to do about Bobby Kennedy, "pointed up the continuing problem... of ill feeling between the liberals and moderates."
The tragedy is that, even though Johnson took up Kennedy’s legislative agenda — in particular, civil rights — and succeeded where the latter had failed, that did nothing to ease the intense dislike between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy and their respective camps. Soon after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed into law, Johnson told Barnes, "Ben, I’m proud of these Civil Rights bills, but they’re going to hurt the party in the long run." This anecdote is just one of many that make this book so valuable: Johnson, the consummate power-hungry politician, sacrificing his party for a nobler cause.
He was right. Southern conservative Democrats began a shift that eventually turned the south into a Republican stronghold, when, despite Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964, Goldwater carried five deep-south states.
Throughout the ‘60s, Barnes gives credit to Governor Connally for holding the Texas Democrats together despite the ongoing feuds. By then Barnes was the 26-year-old Speaker of the House and supported both Johnson and Connally in their progressive agendas to build bridges between the business community and the progressive side of the party. "This is another element of the party’s strength that we’ve lost today; we need to find and cultivate business leaders who care about more than just profit, and who’ll work with us to improve the state." The same applies nationally.
On March 31, 1968, Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for president, and that "immediately changed everything about the game, both nationwide and in Texas [which] for the first time in decades, lack a national leader in Washington." Connally had already announced he wasn’t running for governor again. Texas Democrats were on the verge of meltdown. And when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated just over two months later, on June 5th, there was no national Democratic leader of his stature to take over.
The Vietnam War was tearing the country apart, Martin Luther King’s assassination just four days after Johnson’s announcement, inflamed both blacks and whites, and the Democratic Convention in Chicago that year was a disaster for the party. Nixon’s campaign created the new Republican playbook that’s still in use today: "Divide and conquer, using the rawest, most emotional issues in American life as a bludgeon and wedge." While the Texas Democrats did well in the 1970 elections, they didn’t know that Nixon had already targeted them. Securities and Exchange Commission investigations, illegal IRS audits, and Justice Department investigations not only took down Barnes, but, as he says, "Nixon had orchestrated the destruction of Texas Democrats." The infamous Nixon tapes verify Barnes’ claim.