Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Did Eisenhower and Nixon hate each other? Same question with Reagan/Bush and Kennedy/Johnson.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The relationships between Presidents and Vice Presidents are always complicated and we usually spend more time guessing about what the relationships were truly like instead of learning a lot of facts from direct sources.

The Eisenhower/Nixon relationship was tense during Eisenhower’s Presidency, but improved over the years and was quite close prior to Eisenhower’s death in 1969 (just two months after Nixon finally became President).  Nixon revered Eisenhower, but when he became Eisenhower’s running mate in 1952 and then found himself caught up in the “Checkers” scandal, Eisenhower became wary of Nixon.  There were rumors that Eisenhower was planning to dump Nixon from the ticket in 1956, but it didn’t happen. 

Nixon ended up being a very good Vice President and a good balance to Eisenhower.  Nixon was young (just 40 years old when he was inaugurated as VP) and Eisenhower was one of the oldest Presidents in history.  Eisenhower was moderate and seemed calm and composed, while Nixon was his bulldog and hatchet man.  Eisenhower didn’t need Nixon as much as Nixon needed Eisenhower, but I think Eisenhower was better off because of Nixon’s presence.

Their relationship was still strained when Nixon ran for President in 1960 upon Ike’s retirement.  When asked what major projects Nixon had assisted with during the Eisenhower Presidency, Ike famously said, “If you give me a week, I may think of something.”  Eisenhower also delayed his endorsement of Nixon during the 1960 race for the Republican Presidential nomination — something which led Nixon to reportedly finally snap at his boss and tell him, “There comes a time in matters like this when you’ve either got to shit or get off the pot.”

There was a certain father-son relationship between Eisenhower and Nixon.  Nixon definitely saw Eisenhower as a mentor and writes glowingly, yet honestly, about Ike in his Memoirs.  As both men got older and Nixon ran for the Presidency again in 1968, Eisenhower treated him more as an equal and Nixon often went to the old General for advice.  Nixon — famously reticent about his emotions and guarded about any weakness — easily admitted that he cried when Eisenhower died in 1969.  Nixon loved Eisenhower, and it seems that before Eisenhower died, he had finally earned Ike’s respect.

Reagan and Bush ran against each other for the Republican nomination in 1980 and early in the contest, they were rather negative towards one another.  In a famous debate prior to the New Hampshire primary, it’s obvious that Bush even got under the skin of the normally unflappable Reagan.  Bush was even the one who coined the term “voodoo economics” for Reagan’s economic plan.

Once Reagan won the nomination and picked Bush as his running mate (after briefly flirting with naming former President Ford as his running mate), their relationship seemed to be fine.  By all indications, Reagan treated Bush with a great deal of respect and Bush was a player in many aspects of the Reagan Administration.  I’ve never heard or read any rumors about their relationship being strained during Reagan’s Presidency.

I don’t know if Reagan and Bush were ever close because, apparently, Ronald Reagan was never personally close with anybody other than his wife.  They had a strong working relationship and I think that was all they needed.  If I remember correctly, Reagan and Bush had a working lunch every week that they never missed during Reagan’s Presidency.  When Reagan died in 2004, George H.W. Bush gave a eulogy at his National Cathedral funeral service.

As for JFK and LBJ, well, that relationship was definitely complicated.  Kennedy appreciated Johnson and understood LBJ’s value.  It was JFK’s loyal aides who accompanied him to the White House from Massachusetts and his brother, Bobby, who disliked Johnson, treated him disrespectfully, and were often openly hostile to the Vice President.  Johnson liked JFK, too, but he was handcuffed by the Vice Presidency and felt envy and some anger at the lack of power or responsibility that JFK had given him.

JFK tried his best to include LBJ in many aspects of the Administration, but JFK’s aides did a better job of marginalizing LBJ’s participation or downplaying his influence.  Personally, JFK and LBJ liked each other a great deal, and JFK respected LBJ’s skill with managing Congress.  JFK also knew that he couldn’t have won the Presidency without LBJ as his Vice President in 1960 to help him secure Texas.

They liked each other, but their professional relationship was awkward for both men.  LBJ felt he was more qualified and better prepared to be President than JFK.  JFK felt he had to prove himself and sometimes had to keep Johnson out of the picture in order to keep from being overshadowed by LBJ’s presence.  For JFK, it would have been tough because he had spent the previous seven years in the Senate, which was dominated by Lyndon Johnson.  It was like working for a powerful, forceful, fearsome boss for almost eight years and then switching places and sending him to the mail room.

The JFK-LBJ relationship was tough on both men, but I think they were friendly personally.  In fact, I don’t think any of the relationships you mentioned included any outright hatred.

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