I doubt it would have made much of a difference. Truman and LBJ were Democrats and would have distanced themselves from Nixon — particularly Truman, who hated Nixon (“Richard Nixon is a no-good lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he’d lie just to keep his hand in,” is just one of the many things Truman said about Nixon). Even though Eisenhower and Nixon had grown closer personally towards the end of Ike’s life (helped in part by the marriage of Nixon’s daughter to Eisenhower’s grandson), I imagine the General would have kept his distance, too, had he been alive during Watergate. Although all three of those Presidents you mentioned (Truman, Eisenhower, and LBJ) taped phone conversations and some meetings in the White House, they didn’t cover up crimes while being taped. Had any other Presidents been alive at the time, I don’t think it would have helped Nixon.
In fact, it might have hurt him even more. It might have been a case where one or all of those former Presidents spoke out and said, “Hey, you are tarnishing the office of the Presidency and you need to go,” and it would have dealt Nixon a devastating blow. After all, it wasn’t until Republican leaders of Congress came to the White House and told Nixon that they couldn’t support him and that he was going to be impeached that he finally stepped down. Had Truman, Eisenhower, or LBJ been alive, they might have had the gravitas to nudge him out of office even more quickly.
By the way, LBJ had some prophetic words in 1969 after Nixon was inaugurated as President: ”I may not know much, but I know chicken shit from chicken salad…(Nixon’s) like a Spanish horse who runs faster than anyone for the first nine lengths and then turns around and runs backwards. You’ll see — he’ll do something wrong in the end. He always does.”
If the Republicans will stop telling lies about us, we will stop telling the truth about them.
Adlai E. Stevenson, during his unsuccessful 1952 Presidential campaign against Dwight D. Eisenhower
The rivalry between General Eisenhower and Robert Taft was certainly interesting. Because of Eisenhower’s popularity and his relatively easy victories over Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, it’s forgotten that Taft was such a contender for the Republican nomination in 1952 before it became clear that Eisenhower was making a bid for the Presidency. Taft really felt that it was his turn and that he deserved the nomination. He looked at Eisenhower as a bit of a political carpetbagger — a career soldier who had said he had no interest in politics and hadn’t even officially declared which party he belonged to until shortly before he ran for President.
Taft was a victim, of course, to Eisenhower’s immense popularity as the Allied commander during World War II. But Taft was also a victim of television. Eisenhower had that famous smile and a quirky charisma, while Robert Taft was a really awkward-looking guy who didn’t come across well on television. The 1952 Republican National Convention was the first political convention that was a major television event, and that definitely helped Ike and hurt Taft. Bob Taft also came across as a cold, aloof figure who was highly-respected for his intellect, but not terribly exciting or special. Not only did he not have the appeal or ability to connect with the American people that Eisenhower did, but he wasn’t even close to being as likable as his father, William Howard Taft.
With that said, Bob Taft was a formidable figure and Eisenhower could not take him lightly — not during the 1952 GOP Convention and not after Eisenhower’s election when he Ike had to try to mend their relationship since Taft remained Senate Majority Leader. Taft never fully bought in to Eisenhower, but they also didn’t have much time. Although Taft sought the Presidency and felt that he deserved to win it in 1952, he was probably already dying of stomach cancer at the time. Senator Taft died on July 31, 1953, so if he had been elected, he would have been dead just over six months into his Presidency. Despite their rivalry, President Eisenhower quickly realized that losing Taft’s leadership in the Senate was an early blow to his Administration’s legislative efforts and Taft’s absence allowed Joseph McCarthy to continue his reign of terror in the Senate for several more years.
You might have watched too many episodes of The Borgias.
No, I am pretty certain that it wasn’t an arranged marriage. After all, look at this photo of young David and Julie from President Eisenhower’s second Inauguration in 1957:
You can’t fake that kind of love! Plus, David and Julie Nixon Eisenhower are still together and happily married after all these years.
I guess it’s a coincidence that they ended up together, but it’s not that odd. After all, Nixon was Ike’s Vice President for eight years, so it makes sense that Nixon’s daughters would spend time with Eisenhower’s grandchildren since they were about the same age. They started dating after Eisenhower left office and before Nixon was elected because they just happened to be going to school close to each other and decided to hang out. Their relationship blossomed from there.
In David Eisenhower’s book about his relationship with his grandfather during General Eisenhower’s final years, Going Home To Glory, he tells an interesting story about how he approached Ike to tell him that he was in love with Julie and that he was planning on marrying her. Ike was wary about the union because David and Julie were so young at the time — both of them were only 20 years old. Eisenhower also had some concerns about David marrying a Nixon — not so much because of any issue that Ike had with Nixon, but because David and Julie were married a month after Nixon was elected President and Ike worried about how the spotlight might affect their relationship.
General Eisenhower was dying at Walter Reed when David and Julie were married and couldn’t attend the wedding in person. If I remember correctly, one of the television networks (maybe NBC), attempted to set up a closed-circuit television in Ike’s hospital room so that he could watch the wedding ceremony live from his hospital bed. I don’t have the book nearby so my details might be off, but I believe the video feed didn’t work and Eisenhower couldn’t see the ceremony, but the audio was working and allowed him to listen to the wedding live. Ike died just three months later.
(FYI: Just on a personal note, young Julie Nixon Eisenhower was by far the hottest Presidential daughter in American history. There is no system of rankings by historians to determine that, but my intensive research and impressive personal knowledge on the issue led me to a definitive conclusion on the subject.)
I have previously answered this question with more depth but can’t find it, so I apologize if this answer isn’t quite as good as the first time around.
All three of those Presidents that you mentioned absolutely loved being President. Bill Clinton absolutely would have sought a third term if not for the 22nd Amendment. I think he would have kept running for the Presidency until the day he died if there were no term limits.
Eisenhower and Reagan are a little bit tougher because of their age. To this day, Reagan and Eisenhower (in that order) are the oldest Presidents in history upon leaving office. If they were younger, I think both of them would definitely have run again.
Reagan was just over two weeks shy of his 78th birthday when he left office and his official biographer, Edmund Morris, has noted that Reagan was clearly in failing health with what was probably the early stages of his Alzheimer’s Disease. Although Reagan remained in the public eye until 1994, I doubt that he would have run again if there were no term limits. He probably would have wanted to, but as protective as Nancy was of the President, I don’t think that she would have allowed it because she knew better than anyone the struggles that he was having with his memory and his energy in the last 18 months or so of his Presidency.
Eisenhower was 70 when he turned the White House over to JFK in 1961. Again, if it were up to him, I’m sure Ike would have wanted to remain in office, particularly since he had such doubts about JFK and even about the GOP nominee in 1960, his own Vice President, Richard Nixon. But like Reagan, eight years in the White House had taken a toll of Eisenhower’s health. For a time, there were questions about whether he would run for reelection in 1956, and many of his closest aides and friends and even his influential brother Milton urged him not to. In his first term, Ike had survived a significant heart attack and a brutal bout with ileitis which required emergency surgery. Of course, Eisenhower did win a second term, but there were health scares in that term, as well, including a stroke. Because of his health issues, I don’t think he would have sought a third term even if he were able to.
While many Presidents have been avid golfers, Dwight D. Eisenhower raised the profile of the sport so much during his time in office that he was posthumously inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009.
Eisenhower was an active member of several exclusive golf clubs. At Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, home of the Masters Tournament, members built a cabin for the President’s use and Ike visited 29 times during his Presidency. The Eisenhower Cabin isn’t the only landmark at Augusta named after Ike. On the 17th hole is the Eisenhower Tree — a pine tree Ike struck so many times with errant shots that he (unsuccessfully) suggested it be cut down.
Back in Washington, when President Eisenhower wasn’t on the putting green he installed at the White House he could often be found at the ultra-exclusive, ultra-expensive, all-male Burning Tree Club in nearby Bethesda, Maryland. Despite Burning Tree’s hefty price tag for membership, the posh trappings didn’t extend to the lockers. Ike’s locker was simply identified by an index card with “The President, U.S.A.” written in pencil.
Eisenhower wasn’t the only high-profile politician to enjoy the privileges of Burning Tree. Ike’s Vice President Richard Nixon was also a member and, in 1954, it was actually Nixon who sponsored a Burning Tree membership for the man he would face for the Presidency in 1960 — John F. Kennedy. Other Presidents who were members at Burning Tree included Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and George H. W. Bush.
I think that Eisenhower and Reagan probably would have been tempted to seek a third term, if possible. They both had health problems during their Presidencies, but I could see Eisenhower seeking a third term anyway. He had a difficult time stepping away, which is one reason why he waited so long to give Richard Nixon a solid endorsement in 1960. It wasn’t necessarily a lack of confidence in Nixon’s abilities, but partly because Ike felt that he (Ike) was still the best man for the job.
Reagan, like Clinton, loved being President, too. But when Reagan left office in 1989, he was about two weeks away from his 78th birthday and, according to his official biographer, Edmund Morris, there were signs that he may have been facing the early stages of his Alzheimer’s in the last few weeks of his Administration. Since President Reagan looked relatively healthy and definitely looked fit for his age, it’s difficult for people to realize that he was almost a full eight years older than Eisenhower (70) was when Ike left office. Even if Eisenhower had served another term, Ike still would have been four years younger than Reagan at the end of that third term. I think Reagan’s age and deteriorating health would have prevented him from a third term if it was Constitutionally possible. As closely as his public image was protected by Nancy Reagan, there is no way she would have stood by while he hung on for another term and publicly started to suffer from serious Alzheimer’s symptoms.
An interesting thing is that, if they had the opportunity to run for a third term and their health allowed it, I think Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton all would have been easily elected to another term. I think George W. Bush would have had a much more difficult time with seeking a third term, if possible. However, I don’t think Bush would have run again even if he was Constitutionally eligible. In those last few months of 2008, President Bush looked SO ready to get back to Texas. Even if his chances of being re-elected were positive, I still think he would have chosen retirement instead of a third term.
As for the second part of your question, I think that Truman would have stepped away in 1952, no matter what. All Truman ever wanted to do was remain a U.S. Senator. When he was suggested as a potential Vice Presidential candidate, he was not interested, and when others reminded him that President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely wouldn’t survive the term, Truman declared that he didn’t want to be President either. Of course, he was elected Vice President and as in the case of almost every VP who succeeds to the Presidency, once Truman got to the White House he wanted to be elected to a term in his own right. Still, before Eisenhower declared that he was a Republican, Truman was suggesting that he (Truman) would be happy to step aside and be Eisenhower’s running mate if Ike wanted to run for President as a Democrat. So, Harry Truman did not mind retiring home to Missouri in 1952, and I think he would have done so, no matter what.
LBJ’s case was different. The fact that he was very nearly upset in the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary by Eugene McCarthy really shook President Johnson up and showed that he was vulnerable. If there wasn’t a serious challenge from within his own party — first from McCarthy and then from RFK — LBJ would have stayed in that race in 1968. Despite his withdrawal from the race, deep down LBJ still had a flicker of hope that the Democratic National Convention would be deadlocked, turn to the outgoing LBJ, draft him into the race, nominate him, and he’d be the conquering hero, vanquishing Nixon and bringing the Vietnam War to an end.
LBJ was also a man of contradictions, though. Throughout his life, he always said that he would die young because all of the men in his family died by the time they were 64 or 65. As much as Johnson was addicted to power and craved the love of the American people (something that he never received like JFK did, which “broke his heart” according to Richard Nixon), he was also deeply worried that another four years in the White House would kill him. Worse yet, he would suffer an incapacitating stroke like Woodrow Wilson. LBJ often had a nightmare where he fell ill like Wilson and was an invalid — a shell of a once-powerful man bedridden or feebly being rolled through the White House in a wheelchair. It was an macabre thing to think about, but it was something that frequently haunted President Johnson, especially because he had suffered a near-fatal massive heart attack in 1955 when he was Senate Majority Leader. The confident, arrogant, impetuous, strong-willed LBJ wanted to take on Nixon and serve four more years in the White House. The sensitive, insecure, depressed LBJ considered resigning, didn’t think he’d live through the next term (1969-1973), and often had to receive a pep talk from Lady Bird to get his act together and go to work. So, with LBJ, it would actually depend on which LBJ you got on decision day when it comes to whether he would have sought a third term if not for the disastrous results of the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary.
By the way, Lyndon Johnson died on January 22, 1973. If he had served a third term, it would have ended on January 20, 1973, just two days prior to the day that he actually died.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, on critics who took shots at him for not being on the front lines on D-Day
(I don’t think I’ve ever seen this quote. I just came across it while reading, and had to stop and share it.)
Yes, I think I’ve probably mentioned it on a few different occasions, but here’s the mention from my essay on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, “We Remember”:
When Democrat Lyndon Johnson was the Senate Majority Leader and Republican Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States, LBJ — one of the most intense, passionate political animals in our history — never attacked President Eisenhower. It wasn’t because LBJ agreed with Eisenhower’s policies. It wasn’t because LBJ was scared. It was because, as LBJ explained in 1953 in a comment that has an unfortunately haunting connection to 9/11, “If you’re in an airplane, and you’re flying somewhere, you don’t run up to the cockpit and attack the pilot. Mr. Eisenhower is the only President we’ve got.”
LBJ revisited the idea behind those comments during Richard Nixon’s Presidency, as well, but with somewhat different language. Johnson said that Nixon was a son of a bitch, “But he’s the only son of a bitch President that we’ve got.”
Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War
David A. Nichols
Paperback. 346 pp.
February 2012. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
A few years ago, I ordered the The Presidents Collection DVD box set from PBS’s awesome American Experience series. This particular set included documentaries about 10 of the most important and influential Presidents of the 20th Century: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy (in “The Kennedys” featuring the story of the entire political family), Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. For someone like me, 35 hours worth of documentaries about our Presidents is basically my personal definition of heaven and I have never had any complaints about my purchase. However, I’ve always been surprised that one of the 20th Century Presidents left out of this particular set of DVDs is the 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
For some reason, Dwight D. Eisenhower as President is often overlooked or overshadowed. The mid-20th Century featured large personalities immediately preceding and succeeding Eisenhower in the Presidency — FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Nixon — and the eight years that Eisenhower served were relatively calm, peaceful, and prosperous in comparison to the events that took place during the Administrations of FDR (Great Depression/World War II), Truman (End of World War II/Atomic bombing of Japan/Korean War), JFK (Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis), LBJ (Civil Rights Movement/Vietnam), and Nixon (Vietnam/Watergate). Then there’s the fact that Eisenhower’s greatest fame came before he entered the world of politics, first as one of the leading Generals and then the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, where he planned and oversaw the successful D-Day invasion of Europe. In a way, President Eisenhower has always been overshadowed by General Eisenhower, and Eisenhower’s performance as President continues to be underrated, although more Americans are beginning to understand Ike’s greatness during his two terms in the White House.
The world didn’t stop being a dangerous place from 1953-1961. A famous Eisenhower quote inscribed on a wall at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas notes that the peace and prosperity that the United States enjoyed during his Administration wasn’t the result of good luck: “The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground during my Administration. We kept the peace. People ask how it happened — by God, it didn’t just happen.” Eisenhower spent almost his entire adult life prior to entering politics as a warrior, but as President, the old soldier committed himself and his nation towards, in one of his favorite phrases, “waging peace”.
Even before Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn into office in January 1953, he took steps to end the fighting in the Korean War, which had become a stalemate under President Truman. During the transition between Eisenhower’s election and inauguration, the President-elect followed through on a campaign pledge and traveled to Korea to revive peace talks and help guide the parties to an Armistice. When he took office, Eisenhower hit the ground running and Americans had immense faith in their new President because of the leadership skills that helped the Allies win World War II. The peace and prosperity that Americans enjoyed during Eisenhower’s first term virtually guaranteed that Ike could be easily re-elected in 1956.
David A. Nichols begins his remarkable look at the most difficult year of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Presidency, Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War (Paperback, 2012, Simon & Schuster), with President Eisenhower enjoying a nice vacation at the Colorado home of his mother-in-law. However, early in the morning of September 24, 1955, the President, who was less than a month away from his 65th birthday, suffered a massive heart attack. The quick reaction of Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie, may have saved the President’s life, but a little over a year away from the 1956 election, Eisenhower’s ability to seek re-election, or even continue in the Presidency, was in serious question.
Nichols follows President Eisenhower’s recovery into 1956 as Ike slowly but surely regains his strength and becomes convinced that he is not only capable of seeking re-election, but that his country needs him to remain at the helm. The President’s heart attack is the beginning of several crises that make Eisenhower 1956 a gripping account as the political calendar flips closer and closer to Election Day, and as one international crisis after another plunge the world to the brink of yet another World War and seemingly blend together to make every move that the Eisenhower Administration makes potentially dangerous and crucial to the survival of peace.
In Eisenhower 1956, David A. Nichols uncovers incredible details from recently declassified documents, personal diaries, diplomatic cables, and more in order to prove that Dwight D. Eisenhower was not merely a popular, genial, caretaker in the White House. Instead, Eisenhower was a hands-on leader who may have come from a military background but who had perhaps better political instincts than any American politician of his time. Eisenhower was clever and cunning, in national politics and international diplomacy. Despite running for a second term and another serious setback to his health, Eisenhower stays engaged at a top-level and, in many instances, the President’s perspective on foreign relations and his vision for the big picture rivals that of his ever-present Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and any of the other longtime political or diplomatic veterans in Eisenhower’s Cabinet or inner circle. For those readers who were previously aware of Eisenhower’s surprising political skills, Eisenhower 1956 will add to your appreciation of Ike’s capabilities. For those who might have thought of the old General as a hands-off delegator with a famous smile who won the Presidency as something akin to a lifetime achievement award — and there are many Americans who have thought of Eisenhower the President in that way over the past half-century — this book by Nichols is perhaps the best revelation yet about Eisenhower’s immense skills and how he transformed the Presidency.
The main conflict in Eisenhower 1956 is the Suez Crisis, an event that continues to have consequences today in an area of the world which remains a flashpoint. Since the Suez Crisis took place in 1956, some historians have looked at it one of the last gasps of European colonialism in the wake of World War II. Throughout Eisenhower 1956, the deep research done by David A. Nichols reveals incredible details about how the Suez Crisis escalated and what could have happened if not for the restraint and stunning diplomatic footwork of President Eisenhower and the Eisenhower Administration. One of the most incredible aspects of the Suez Crisis is how, just a decade following the end of World War II, two of America’s wartime Allies that owed perhaps more gratitude than anyone else to Dwight D. Eisenhower — Great Britain and France — secretly plotted with Israel to double-cross President Eisenhower and the United States in order to attack Egypt after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. It is a tremendous story, told with incredible detail by Dr. Nichols, which not only takes you back to 1956, but makes you feel as if you were in charge of President Eisenhower’s daily calendar throughout the crisis.
Most unbelievable of all is that President Eisenhower’s bid for re-election, the most heated moments of the Suez Crisis, and Eisenhower’s precarious health are issues that don’t simply share the same year — 1956 — but, in many cases, take place simultaneously. And, as President Eisenhower considers how to handle the Suez Crisis — including the unthinkable possibility of American forces combating the aggression against Egypt by responding militarily against our seemingly inseparable Allies, Britain, France, and Israel — the Soviet Union puts down a popular revolt in Hungary with 200,000 Russian troops and threatens to funnel weapons and funding, if not direct military support, in the Middle East.
Eisenhower 1956 is a compelling, phenomenal history of one of our great, underrated Presidents, at the top of his game as a world leader and visionary of modern global relations, responding to a hurricane of dangerous international crises with political skills that few leaders — Presidents, diplomats, politicians, or soldiers — have ever possessed. Dr. Nichols has crafted a masterpiece that does justice to the gravity of the events portrayed in his book while giving President Eisenhower the just due that he so richly deserves. This is an important work for the study of Eisenhower, the American Presidency, the Cold War, and the always-evolving status of American relations in the Middle East.
Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War by David A. Nichols is available now in hardcover and paperback from Simon & Schuster. You can order the book from Amazon, or download it instantly for your Kindle. Dr. Nichols previously authored another title about the 34th President, A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution (BOOK•KINDLE). For more information on Dr. Nichols, be sure to check out his author page at the Simon & Schuster website.