The Reluctant Candidate: Dwight Eisenhower in 1951
Joseph M. Dailey
In 1951, Dwight Eisenhower, then military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), was convinced that NATO's success was doubtful without wholehearted support from all quarters of the American government. By that time, Eisenhower's name had been heard repeatedly in connection with the 1952 presidential campaign. Years before, President Truman had offered his support if Eisenhower would run for the presidency in 1948 as a Democrat. After that, the requests, the pleadings, even the enticements to get the General to run in 1952, were continual. Eisenhower occupied his time at his NATO headquarters near Paris with defense plans, training, field exercises, and polite visits with a stream of at least seventy-eight politicians and friends, most of whom urged him to seek the Republican nomination. To all of them Eisenhower replied that he was not interested in politics, and he complained that sometimes he could not do his work because of all the visitors who came to talk politics.
Much has been made of Eisenhower's having claimed that he did not want to run for the presidency, without ever having stated categorically that he would not run under any circumstances. Eisenhower later explained that his refusal to say in public what he had been saying in private--that he would never run for the presidency--was a bit of impression management. Eisenhower wrote in Mandate for Change that he hoped an aura of mystery about his plans would help achieve congressional support for the collective defense of Europe. 1
Before, during, and after his first presidential campaign, it was widely believed that throughout 1951 (and perhaps earlier) Eisenhower desired the presidency. He was sometimes seen as being coy. His rejections of a candidacy in 1952 were regarded as strategic. Were those ideas correct? Or was Eisenhower sincerely reluctant to run?
This chapter investigates (1) precisely how reluctant Eisenhower was before