According to popular legend, Dwight Eisenhower was a shoo-in for the Presidency in 1952. He won the Republican primary on the first ballot by a large margin. He then proceeded to crush Adlai Stevenson in the general election. But in truth, he came very close to losing the primary race and only prevailed thanks to some questionable tactics. Did Eisenhower steal the nomination and thus, the Presidency?
General Eisenhower versus “Mr. Republican”?
In the aftermath of World War II, General Eisenhower was immensely popular with Americans and both parties courted him as a Presidential candidate. Initially, “Ike” showed little interest. However, that changed when he met Robert Taft, aka “Mr. Republican.”
Taft was the leader of the Old Right wing of the Republican Party (a mantle now carried by Dr. Ron Paul). He believed in reducing the size of government and supported a policy of non-interventionism. But his opposition to the Cold War didn’t sit well with Eisenhower. At the same time, the Democrats looked particularly vulnerable thanks to public disgust with corruption in President Truman’s administration. Many people thought that the Republican nominee, regardless of who it was, would easily win the Presidency.
Although Eisenhower had yet to commit to the race, his name was put forth on the New Hampshire ballot by Thomas Dewey, Taft’s arch rival. He didn’t campaign. He hadn’t even expressed his opinion on political issues. And yet, he won convincingly. Shortly afterward, Eisenhower decided to throw his hat into the ring.
The Race for the Republican Nomination?
The campaign that followed was one of the most bitter and hotly contested races in history. Eisenhower enjoyed tremendous popularity and attracted tons of new voters to the party who were derisively referred to as “Republicans for a Day.” But Taft was popular as well. In addition, he faced a structural advantage. Back then, the majority of convention delegates were chosen by caucuses. And most of those caucuses were controlled by Taft supporters. As the Republican Convention neared, Taft had 530 delegates to Ike’s 427. Still, although Taft was in control, he was short of the 604 delegates needed to secure the nomination.
Eisenhower’s team swiftly accused Taft of stealing delegates from Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia. Supposedly, Taft supporters had kept Eisenhower voters from participating in these caucuses. The voters proceeded to form their own pro-Eisenhower delegations, which resulted in conflicting delegations being sent to the Republican Convention. Taft’s team offered a compromise split of the delegates but Ike’s people refused, believing that they could use the issue to their advantage at the Convention.
The 1952 Republican Convention?
In July 1952, the Convention opened. Taft had every reason to be optimistic. Besides his lead in delegates, the committees were largely controlled by his team. But Ike’s people were prepared. They quickly proposed the “Fair Play” rule, which would forbid contested delegates from participating in roll call votes. Taft’s team badly mishandled the parliamentary issue and as a result, lost the fight. This vote remains controversial today as many people believe that third-place candidate Earl Warren’s decision to support “Fair Play” was influenced by Eisenhower offering him a position on the Supreme Court.
With Taft’s delegates forced to sit on the sidelines, Eisenhower had the numerical advantage for the remainder of the roll call votes. This led to a series of votes in which Taft’s contested delegates were rejected and Eisenhower’s were approved. Still, Taft thought he had a chance. Even with the newfound delegates, Eisenhower seemed likely to garner just 560 votes, well short of 604. But during the first roll call vote, Ike took 595 votes to just 500 for Taft thanks to the support from several uncommitted delegations. Recognizing a patronage opportunity, Minnesota party leaders quickly switched their 20 votes to Eisenhower and the battle was over. Others followed suit and Eisenhower ended up winning on the first ballot by a vote of 845 to 280 (with an additional 77 delegates supporting Earl Warren).
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
So, did Eisenhower steal the primary election and thus, the Presidency? He didn’t do anything illegal. Still, his victory can be attributed largely to parliamentary trickery that kept Taft’s delegates from having a voice at the Convention. It’s possible that Eisenhower deserved those delegates in the first place although Taft vigorously denied any wrongdoing. It should also be noted that Taft won the popular vote handily, with 2.8 million votes to just 2.1 million votes for Ike. Still, he wasn’t the clear favorite since this represented just 35.8% of all votes.
The various Republican factions were clearly divided over their choices in 1952. But after the Convention, they joined forces and thus propelled Eisenhower to the Presidency in a landslide. As for Taft, he fell sick soon after the Convention and passed away in 1953. His death, coupled with Ike’s victory, marked the end of the Old Right wing of the Republican Party and the subsequent rise of the Conservative movement.