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Was Ike's Nomination as President Really a Shoo-in?

In a recent article in the New York Review of Books, political columnist Elizabeth Drew, writing about the difficulties facing retired General Wesley Clark's presidential campaign, points out that he is no Eisenhower:

"When Eisenhower decided to run as a Republican in 1952, both parties had been seeking him out, and he was handed the nomination by Republican Party leaders."

Although General Eisenhower's immense popularity among the American people following his successes in World War II might lead many to believe that his nomination was a shoe-in, this was hardly the case.

Indeed, up until late 1951 and early 1952, Eisenhower was denying that he was seeking the presidency at all. He had told Republican power-broker and former presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, "I do not believe that anything can ever convince me that I have a duty to seek political office." Though this would be a slogan that he kept to for quite sometime, he would soon begin to perceive the Republican Party's continuing isolationist perspective as a serious danger to the accomplishments of winning World War II.

Eisenhower on the campaign trailAfter meeting with Robert Taft, the likely Republican nominee and concluding that he was, "a very a stupid man," Eisenhower began to make an addendum to his position-if the public wanted him to run for president, he would feel it was his obligation to do so.

With the Truman administration appearing weak and indecisive, the 1952 elections appeared to be leading to a Republican victory. Still, Eisenhower was unmoved. Ultimately, it took a film viewing of fifteen thousand supporters at Madison Square Garden to call him to duty.

By the time he had activated his supporters to proceed with the campaign, it was already February of the election year. Though it was late to start, this would be the least of his problems. Starting with the New Hampshire primary in March, Eisenhower's popularity would ensure he did well against Taft across the nation. However, most of the Republican convention delegates were still chosen by caucuses. Most of the state caucuses were controlled by the party machinery that was heavily in favor of Taft.

As the national convention approached, the delegate counts were close. This culminated in an intense nationwide effort by the Eisenhower campaign to substitute Ike's delegates for Taft's in several states where the credentials of the Taft delegates could be challenged. At the same time, a smear campaign was launched against Eisenhower alleging everything from affairs to a Jewish heritage.

Going into the convention, the estimates were that Taft had 530 delegates to Eisenhower's 427. With neither candidate securing the 604 total needed, the battle focused on the credentials of the contested delegates backing Taft. The Eisenhower campaign's plan was to introduce a "Fair Play" amendment at the convention to block the contested delegates from voting on their own credentials. If passed, the amendment would guarantee Eisenhower's nomination.

With the convention split, the vote on the amendment came down to California's 70 votes. California law required their delegation to vote as a block, so it was critical to win the stalemate. The key was securing the backing of the delegates who favored the nomination of California Governor Earl Warren, who hoped to emerge as the convention's compromise choice. Eisenhower supporter Thomas Dewey got California Senator Richard Nixon to try to win them over. This successful power play was what got Nixon the vice-presidential nod. Ultimately, Warren told his delegates to vote as they saw fit and Eisenhower won the state's votes.

Knowing they would lose the vote on the Fair Play amendment, Taft's supporters instead tried to modify the amendment's wording to favor their slate. Taft forces lost this gambit. With that, it was clear that the amendment would pass.

After the first ballot Eisenhower was up 595 to 500 for Taft-still short of the required 604. The nomination was clenched when Minnesota's former governor, Harold Stassen, announced that his nineteen favorite-son delegates would switch from him to Eisenhower.

Once all the political maneuvering was over, the final vote at the convention ended with a landslide 845 to 280 vote victory for Eisenhower. This closing tally may have been what misled Elizabeth Drew into the mistaken notion that Eisenhower was so easily nominated.