Partisanship and Ideology

Eisenhower Presidential Library

Eisenhower Presidential Library

Contents:

The Middle Way

Ike was a centrist.  He called his philosophy “The Middle Way.”  He appealed to the majority of Americans by being neither a reactionary nor a socialist; neither an appeaser nor a warmonger.  He developed his ideas on the Middle Way at Columbia in 1948.  (Life Magazine, The President and his Decision)

Ike believed that finding the middle course was a core aspect of American history.  He saw the compromises that formed the Constitution as an effort to avoid the extremes of the 1780s, saying, “On the one side were the individualists - the fanatical believers in a degree of personal freedom that amounted to almost nihilism… At the other extreme were the great believers in centralized government - those who mistrusted the decisions reached by popular majorities.” (Rives, Eisenhower, the Frontier, and the New Deal)

Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were his centrist role models.  Lincoln took four years to end slavery, despite pressure from abolitionists to go faster, out of fear of losing the Border States.  Lincoln also used the government to promote infrastructure like the Transcontinental Railroad.  Roosevelt ignited the Progressive era by breaking up corporate trusts but resisted the extreme calls from leftists like William Jennings Bryan and Eugene Debbs that could have ended capitalism entirely.  (Rives, Eisenhower, the Frontier, and the New Deal)

Ike did not mechanically take centrist positions but believed nature endorsed his theory that the correct answer usually laid toward the middle and away from the extreme ends.  Ike wrote a letter to Nelson Rockefeller referring to “nature’s curve,” which said the standard statistical distribution curve (of issues like humans’ height or weight) had the bulk of cases fall near the center.  (Greenstein, How Presidents Test Reality)

Ike disliked extremists and demagogues, believing the far left and right were wrong on all political and moral issues.  He referred to the political spectrum as a bowling alley and the extremes as the “gutters” and said he was on the right track when getting attacked by “both sides.” (Rives, Eisenhower, the Frontier, and the New Deal)

Ike disliked rigid ideologies and political labels like “liberal” or “conservative.”  He believed in examining each issue individually and allowing pundits to hang the “labels as they may.”  (Madsen, The International Origins of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Political Economy)

Bipartisanship

Most presidents see Congress as the enemy.  Not Ike.  His viewed of the three branches came from a book on civics where Congress was a co-equal branch with the president.  (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)

Ike believed the president should remain above partisanship and only focus on his duty to the country.  He thought both parties applied the same patriotic principles in different platforms.  Neither had a monopoly on the truth.  His aides disliked it when he listened to all sides of an argument before making a decision but he wanted to know all the facts.  (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)

He was a gentleman, not a bomb thrower.  He did not publically insult opponents by name.  He also avoided criticizing the intelligence and motives of other politicians, believing this was impolite and unforgivable.  (Newton, Eisenhower: The White House Years)

Ike spent six years of his presidency with the Democrats controlling Congress.  Ike worked with them better than he did with the Republicans, but still believed that one party should control both the Executive and Legislative branches at the same time.  That way the party in power’s platform and record could be analyzed without influence and obstruction from the other party.  (1956 CBS Broadcast, The Women Ask the President)

Republican Party

Ike inherited the Republican Party from his parents.  He marched in pro-McKinley rally when he was six years old.  (Susan Eisenhower, Mrs. Ike)

Many of Ike’s values, including duty, honor, patriotism, hard work, marriage and families, and balanced budgets, were old-fashioned conservatism.  He was in many ways a Classical Liberal of the Enlightenment and American Revolution.  (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)

He saw Abraham Lincoln as the patron saint of the GOP and resented when Democrats tried to claim his hero for their own party.  Ike saw Lincoln as embodying the GOP’s values, including individualism, national unity, support for civil rights, and the belief that government should not do for an individual what he or she can do themself.  (Eisenhower, Why I am a Republican)

Though a moderate conservative, Ike was frustrated with the far right.  He referred to the Old Guard as “the most ignorant people now living in the United States” and said of Oregon Governor Douglas McKay, “He seems so completely conservative in his views that at times he seems to be illogical.  I hope that he will soon become a little bit more aware of the world as it is today.”  Ike threatened to become an independent if the Old Guard fought Earl Warren’s appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  (Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace)

Ike ran for president in part to stop Senator Robert Taft, an isolationist Republican, from becoming president.  Ike defeated Taft in the 1952 Republican primary.  Ike and Taft worked well together during Ike’s first year in office until Taft died of cancer.  (Baier, Three Days in January)

The first two years of Ike’s presidency marked the first time the GOP controlled the Executive and Legislative Branches since Herbert Hoover.  Excited, they introduced 107 constitutional amendments to repeal the New Deal.  Some sought to reverse Appomattox by asserting the states over the federal government.  Others wanted to abolish the separation of Church and State. Ike complained to Whitman, “I don’t know why anyone should be a member of the Republican Party.” (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)

Ike rescued the Republican Party from isolationism and McCarthyism.  His wanted to move the party to the center.  This was one of his main failures as president.  William Buckley began the Conservative Movement that dominated the party from 1964 to 2016 as a backlash to Ike’s initiatives. (Richardson, To Make Men Free)

Ike’s failure to moderate the GOP was evident when Barry Goldwater became the party’s nominee in 1964.  Ike had hoped a moderate like William Scranton would be the nominee but told Goldwater he would support him if Goldwater renounced the Klan and other racist groups.  Goldwater agreed.  Ike appeared in press conferences and campaign advertisements with Goldwater, although Ike winced when Goldwater said that Nazi Germany originated the modern concept of “peace through strength.”  Ike told David, his grandson, that Goldwater was “dangerous” and “just plain dumb.”  (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)

Joe McCarthy

Ike said he despised McCarthy as much as any individual since Hitler.  Ike and Dulles knew that Europeans saw McCarthy as the American equivalent of fascism.  Milton said Ike deplored McCarthy as much as one man can deplore another.  (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

Ike wanted to stop communist spies from undermining the US but considered McCarthy’s tactics un-American and counterproductive.  (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

McCarthy endorsed Taft against Ike in the 1952 primary.  Ike and McCarthy reluctantly worked together in the general election.  Ike’s advisors convinced him to not stand up for George Marshall when McCarthy called him a communist traitor.  Ike considered this to be his biggest error of judgment in his entire career.  (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

Ike said McCarthy was the worst extremist from his time in office.  Ike acknowledged some extremists were sincere but believed McCarthy to be evil, demagogic, and responsible for destroying thousands of innocent people’s careers.  Ike believed McCarthy’s ultimate goal was to become president, and Ike declared, “He’s the last guy in the world who’ll ever get there if I have anything to say about it.”  (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

Ike decided in early 1954 “you can’t do business with Joe and to hell with any attempt to compromise.”  McCarthy accused Ike of appeasing Mao’s China during the 1955 Taiwan Crisis.  Ike concluded that McCarthy wanted a nuclear war.  (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

Henry Cabot Lodge, Sherman Adams, and Herbert Brownell were Ike’s main lieutenants against McCarthy.  They, like many pundits, wished Ike publically denounced the rogue senator.  But Ike believed that denouncing McCarthy violated the separation of powers.  It would detract from his political agenda and enflame McCarthy’s legion of supporters, as well as enhance McCarthy’s prestige and detract from Ike’s.  Instead, Ike used the hidden-hand to destroy his adversary. (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

McCarthy repeatedly tried to block Ike’s appointments and called them “communist sympathizers.”  McCarthy also subpoenaed members of Ike’s administration.  Ike protected them by invoking the modern notion of executive privilege, which meant that Congress did not have the right to ask the president’s advisors what they told the president in private.  (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

McCarthy responded to Ike’s executive privilege by calling on government officials to ignore their superiors and give him information on communist spying.  Ike ranted to Hagerty that McCarthy’s statement, “amounts to nothing but a wholesale subversion of public service.  McCarthy is making the exact same plea of loyalty to him that Hitler made to the German people.  Both tried to set up personal loyalty within the Government while both were using the pretense of fighting communism. McCarthy is trying deliberately to subvert the people we have in the federal government, people who are sworn to obey the law, the Constitution and their superior officers. I think this is the most disloyal act we have ever had by anyone in the government of the United States.”  (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

McCarthy changed tactics and accused the army of harboring communists, knowing this could undermine Ike.  This led to the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954.  Ike helped arrange for the hearing to be televised so Americans could see McCarthy’s tactics.  Many Republicans wanted the hearings ended as soon as possible.  Ike made a cold-blooded decision.  He wanted the hearing continued until McCarthy was politically destroyed, even if it hurt the GOP in an election year.  This hearing climaxed when Joseph Welch, the army’s lawyer, said to McCarthy, “Have you no decency sir?  At long last, have you no decency?”  The moment sapped McCarthy of his power.  Ike met with Welch in the Oval Office afterward and congratulated him. (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

The Senate censured McCarthy in December 1954.  Ike said McCarthyism had become McCarthywasm.  McCarthy died of alcoholism in 1957.  (Nichols, Ike and McCarthy)

Democratic Party

Ike was a pro-business Midwesterner who would not have been comfortable in the Democratic Party. He used to joke that his aim was to emulate President Jackson and eliminate the national debt, but added, “As Jackson was a Democrat, there most have been something fishy about it.”  (Johnson, Eisenhower: A Life)

Ike was non-partisan for most of his life but was happy that FDR and the Democrats won the 1932 election.  He approved of FDR’s banking legislation and wrote, “While I have no definite leanings toward any political party I believe it is a good thing the Democrats won - any particularly that one party will have such overwhelming superiority in Congress. Things are not going to take an upturn until more power is centered in one man’s hands. Only in that way will confidence be inspired; will it be possible to do some of the obvious things for speeding recovery, and will we be freed from the pernicious influence of noisy and selfish minorities. For two years I have been called Dictator Ike because I believe that virtual dictatorship must be exercised by our President, so now I keep still - but I still believe it!”  (The Eisenhower Diaries)

Ike supported the New Deal’s initial relief effort but viewed its reforms and welfare programs as unconstitutional and “creeping socialism.”  (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)

Ike, Mamie, and their friends held a party on election night, 1940.  They rooted for Wendell Willkie.  The party abruptly ended when FDR won his third term.  (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)

Ike had mixed views about FDR’s domestic legacy but considered him to be as good a Commander in Chief during WWII as Americans could have asked for.  (Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe)

Ike and FDR maintained formal, but amiable, relations during the war.  Mamie and Eleanor disliked each other.  Ike joked as president that he had to, “Save the country from Eleanor Roosevelt.”  (Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace)

No one knew Ike’s partisan leanings in 1948.  Republicans feared he was a closet Democrat.  Democrats led by Eleanor Roosevelt pushed for Ike to replace Truman as the party’s nominee in that year’s election.  Ike quickly announced he was not running and said, “It is criminal to allow people to waste their votes on a candidate who is not running.”  Ike was disappointed when Truman defeated Dewey.  (Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace)

Truman lobbied Ike to run as a Democrat in 1952, assuming Ike was a Democrat in the Roosevelt-Truman mold.  Ike declined, asking, “What reason have you to think I have ever been a Democrat? You know I have been a Republican all my life and that my family have always been Republicans.”  Ike considered the Democrats too liberal on economic issues.  (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)

Ike was asked if he was really a Republican at the 1952 convention.  Ike replied that, while growing up in Abilene, the locals referred to Democrats the way they would the town drunks.

Ike’s political inexperience led him to not understand that the South had been solidly Democratic since the Civil War.  When told he shouldn’t campaign in the South, he asked, “What do you mean I’m not going into the South? I’m running for president of all the country, aren’t I?  I’ll tell you, gentlemen, I’m going to go into the South right after Labor Day.”  He became the first Republican to win any Southern states. (Baier, Three Days in January)

Ike preferred Southern Democrats to Northern Democrats because the Southerners were more conservative on economic issues.  However, he considered the party a mixture of extremes.  Southern Democrats were extreme right on civil rights while Northern Democrats were extreme left on economics.  Ike also did not understand why African-Americans voted Democratic when Southern Democrats were the ones oppressing them.  (Pipes, Ike’s Final Battle)

Ike did not care if most scientists were Democrats.  After Sputnik he created the position of full-time scientific advisor to the president.  He called his scientific advisors, “My scientists.” (Mieczkowski, Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment)

Ike was hesitant to admit Alaska to the union because he feared it would be a Democratic state.  He agreed to bring it in along with Hawaii, which he thought would be Republican.  His predictions were the reverse of reality.  (Mieczkowski, Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment)

Ike believed JFK’s father had bought the election for him.  Ike despaired that his biggest Senatorial critic became his successor, saying, “All I’ve been doing for eight years has gone down the drain. I might as well have been having fun.”  (Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President)

JFK was, in many ways, Ike’s opposite in mainstream American politics.  Ike’s Farewell Address called for calm, balance, and warned of “quick fixes.”  JFK’s Inaugural Address called for ending “all forms of human poverty,” and pledged, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship.”  It was a stark contrast between moderation and idealism.  (Brooks, The Road to Character)

Whigs

Ike did not fit well in either the Republican or Democratic parties.  He spoke of taking the moderates from both parties and forming a third party.  He said, “I would gladly call it the Whig Party, although I have never actually been able to find out what that word meant.” (Kreig, Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier, President, Statesman)

Several Eisenhower biographers believed Ike would have fit well within the Whig Party of the mid-Nineteenth Century, which was home to Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln.  The Whigs endorsed Alexander Hamilton’s federal fiscal system and believed in infrastructure like the Transcontinental Railroad.  They placed social and political stability as a higher priority than eradicating evils like slavery.  Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, sought to cool political temperatures.  They were the party of union and moderation.  Ike would have been a good fit.  (Kreig, Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier, President, Statesman)

Ike’s Protégés: Nixon and Reagan

Ike was impressed with Congressman Richard Nixon’s handling of the Hiss Case, where Nixon uncovered a State Department Roosevelt adviser to be a Soviet spy.  Furthermore, Republicans saw Ike as a figure of the centrist Eastern Establishment.  Nixon was a young, moderately conservative Californian.  He balanced the 1952 ticket.  (Gellman, The President and the Apprentice)

Ike was troubled that Truman did not know about the Manhattan Project before FDR’s death.  Ike was determined to keep Nixon in the loop and reinvented the Vice Presidency, turning Nixon into an important advisor.  He knew Nixon had a lot of potential but was inexperienced.  Ike dismissed most of Nixon’s early foreign policy advice, which usually involved using nuclear weapons.  Ike sent Nixon around the world in a series of trips to act as his eyes and ears.  Nixon developed foreign policy experience and credentials.  (Gellman, The President and the Apprentice)

Ike and Nixon had a series of crises in their relationship.  Ike did not defend Nixon during the fund scandal, when Democrats accused Nixon of maintaining a private slush fund in the 1952 campaign.  The result was the Checkers Speech, which saved Nixon’s place on the ticket.  Nixon triumphed but never forgave Ike for failing to defend him.  Ike was a career military man and, as a result, was not warm to Nixon, who he saw as a subordinate.  Additionally, Ike thought Nixon needed more administrative experience before becoming president and suggested Nixon take a cabinet position instead of running for Vice President in 1956.  Nixon was offended by this suggestion. (Gellman, The President and the Apprentice)

Nixon was Ike’s protégé and heir apparent.  But Mamie feared for Ike’s health and asked Nixon to tell Ike not to campaign for him until three weeks before Election Day, 1960.  Ike was offended.  (Thomas, Being Nixon: A Man Divided)

Ike warned Nixon not to debate JFK on television.  He said Nixon should not let a senator share the stage with a Vice President.  Nixon ignored Ike.  The debate badly hurt Nixon.  Ike was disappointed in Nixon’s debate performance.  (Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace)

Nixon lost the 1960 Presidential election to JFK and then lost the 1962 California Gubernatorial election to Pat Brown.  Ike believed Nixon’s political career to be over.  But Ike still felt a lack of legacy following the U2 Incident and the failure to achieve détente with the Soviets.  He looked for a new protégé to take under his wing.  Ike found him when he watched Ronald Reagan’s 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing.”  Ike wrote the up-and-coming Republican star.  Ike gave Reagan pointers on running a political campaign when Reagan ran for governor of California in 1966.  Ike also gave Reagan several crash course sessions on foreign policy.  He predicted Reagan would be president one day and did not believe Reagan was as conservative as some people suggested.  (Kopelson, Reagan’s 1968 Dress Rehearsal)

Nixon’s political comeback in 1968 was the last major event in Ike’s life.  Ike broke his rule of not endorsing Republicans during the primary to endorse Nixon.  His protégé finally entered the White House.  Nixon promised to restore law and order, which Ike supported given his worries about the counterculture.  Even their families were joined as David, Ike’s grandson, married Nixon’s daughter, Julie.  Ike would have become a special advisor to President Nixon but died in March 1969.  Nixon gave the eulogy at Ike’s funeral and called his mentor, “The first person of the world.”  (David Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory)