The Atlantic

What Trump-Era Democrats Can Learn From LBJ

Lyndon B. Johnson was an effective policymaker but failed to protect his legacy—much in the same way Obama’s is being toppled today.
Source: Charles Tasnadi / AP

Last week, Robert Schenkkan’s new play, The Great Society, opened at the Arena Stage in Washington. This riveting sequel to the Tony-award winning All the Way, about the Lyndon Johnson presidency, is a haunting piece of theater for liberals to watch in February of 2018, when President Trump and the Republican Congress have been swinging a political wrecking ball at Barack Obama’s legacy.

The two plays capture an important lesson about presidential history: that it is possible for the country’s top leader to be an incredibly effective policymaker yet fail politically at building a governing coalition that outlasts them. The costs of this kind of political failure are severe because it leaves everything a president built open to attack. It also leaves little room for continued growth. LBJ saw that happen when Richard Nixon took office in 1968, and now Obama is witnessing the same thing, even worse, with President Trump.

Policy victories combined with political failure is the story of President Johnson that captures so well. In the first play, Bryan

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