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Drafting Ike

December 2023
8min read

William E. Robinson, former publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, and former President and Chairman of the Coca Cola Company, was one of the organizers of Citizens for Eisenhower. Here he describes the events leading to Eisenhower's nomination for the Presidency in 1952.

During the early part of General Eisenhower's work at NATO, his political party preference was unknown except to a few intimate friends. Consequently, during this tour of duty, he was under constant pressure by both major political parties to declare himself and return to the United States to run for the Presidency. Truman (as revealed in Eisenhower's book Mandate for Change) had offered to support him as the Democratic candidate for any office, including the Presidency.
In October, 1951, the leading Republican newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune, came out for his nomination on the Republican ticket. Thomas E. Dewey, during his campaign for governor of New York in 1950, called for Eisenhower as the presidential candidate for 1952. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge flew to NATO in September, 1951, to convince the General that he should be the Republican candidate—as the only one who could win. Ike pointed out to Lodge, as he had to others, that he "was not interested." The Senator persisted, asking permission merely to enter the General's name in the upcoming primaries. To this proposal, the best response that Lodge could get out of him was "I'll think about it." A small group of Republican members of the House sent him a message promising their support.
But the Democrats, in power and numbers, put on the greatest pressure. With no outstanding candidate in the offing, they were glad to go outside their professional ranks for a 
new leader. This was not the case with most Republicans. It was interesting to find out at this time that private polls taken among the Senate and House members in Washington showed an overwhelming preference for Taft among the Republicans, with Eisenhower as the majority choice among the Democrats.
To all the pressures from both political camps the General gave not the slightest encouragement. Rather it was distracting and sometimes annoying as he worked day and night and traveled extensively in Europe to build NATO into the effective Soviet deterrent it was to become.
During those days, I traveled to Europe frequently in connection with the business of the European edition of the Herald Tribune and other matters. I talked with Eisenhower on each of these visits, occasionally as his house guest.
From our conversations I clearly discerned two prime motivations for his refusal to support efforts in his behalf by either political party. The first of these was his strong conviction that NATO was absolutely essential as a defense against a Communist takeover in Western Europe and his feeling that this service transcended any other that he could render his country and the freedom of the Western world. His second motivation was more personal, and one must understand General Eisenhower's almost unbelievable modesty and lack of egotistical instinct to realize this. Only those few who knew his innermost nature would ever understand why the lure of honor and glory in the Presidency meant little or nothing to him. His greatest hope after his NATO tour and later retirement as President of Columbia University was to live out his life with Mamie, his family, and his close friends. It was not that he was already satiated with honors, glory, applause, and parades. These things had never really touched him as they did other men. He did not want more of what meant little to him, and he would never, therefore, miss any of the kudos for which most men strive.
On one arm/ visits with him at NATO, he once remarked, "I've seen enough of political life in America as well as the world to know that it's very difficult to hold high political office without sacrificing principle. The greatest privilege and luxury I've had in my life is to be able to live and work by my principles. Other men may like money, glory, honor, but this is my particular treasure." I could only reply, "Wouldn't it be a great example for the future if someone should conduct political office on high principle? Maybe you're the one to do it."
During the Christmas holidays of 1951, when I was General and Mrs. Eisenhower's house guest at Marne La Coquette, the General let me say that he had voted Republican in the 1950 New York State elections. (We needed this for the first Republican primary in New Hampshire, since the voters there are required to swear to their party affiliation before
voting for their choice of candidate.) That evening, over a drink before dinner, the General gave me an angry look, saying, "Why do I have to do this thing?" Although he was still determined not to campaign for the nomination, he knew the significance of the statement about his 1950 vote. The next day, as I gleefully prepared to fly back to the United States, with the message, I went to Mrs. Eisenhower to say good-by, and this usually sweet-natured and gracious lady looked at me and said, "Bill, what are you trying to do to us? I don't think I should ever speak to you again." She fully shared General Ike's reluctance to enter political life—was probably the only American woman who had no desire to be the First Lady. Yet we never had a more gracious, modest, or beloved one.
Senator Lodge, who had been operating as an unofficial manager of the limited campaign for Eisenhower's nomination, had been told earlier by General Lucius Clay that General Ike was a Republican, but Lodge wanted Ike's permission to say so. On my return, I passed the word to Lodge. Two days later he had a press conference in Washington and officially labeled Eisenhower as a Republican. The campaign in New Hampshire for the write-in vote got into full swing. Meanwhile, Sherman Adams, New Hampshire's governor, had been working without portfolio and almost single-handedly to develop Ike's candidacy for the forthcoming March primary. In the opinion of the pros, Taft had the New Hampshire primary "locked up" and they considered Adams' effort to be silly and futile. However, Adams, by jeep, bus, and often on snowshoes,
worked throughout the state during one of the most bitter winters the region had ever known. On primary day he carried the state for General Ike by 46,661 to Taft's 35,838.
Now the pressures on Ike to resign his NATO post and return to campaign for the nomination became more intense. One of the General's oldest friends, who had become strongly involved in the movement to nominate him, made a special trip shortly after the Lodge announcement, to demand heatedly that Ike return. He said it was now a matter of duty to the nation and he had no right to shirk it. One of the few outstanding Republican leaders who had endorsed the Eisenhower candidacy sent a message that if he did not return to campaign for the nomination by March 1, the whole thing was hopeless. To these and other strong entreaties and ultimatums, Ike politely and simply said he still did not seek the office, had asked no one to work in his behalf, and could understand if they gave up the effort. There was no question but that General Ike would have been more relieved than disappointed if his proponents had given up.
But there were a few others (most of them amateurs) who felt that he should not return to campaign for the nomination. They knew that Ike was sincere in his conviction that he assume political office only if the people wanted him. To campaign for the nomination, making the usual political commitments and promises to the party professionals with the usual pleas for personal favor, was inimical to General Ike. Also, if he resigned his NATO post before he completed the organization job, the Democrats would accuse him of failure on the job and selfish political ambition. Ike's amateur friends were confident that the people's pressure on the Republican bosses and the delegates would be the only certain (if unprecedented) way to the nomination.
What was not generally known at this time was the long-term effort by a few of us to build the Eisenhower strength in key areas throughout the country. Indeed, among those who knew nothing of this was General Ike himself. For example, I started my own crusade in 1945, quietly building Ike cells in major cities throughout the country. I first spoke with business acquaintances in various cities and urged them to build a nucleus of Eisenhower supporters. These often included leading Republican contributors who had become a bit disillusioned after twenty years about the futility of sending good money after bad. They desperately wanted a winner, and they believed, with me, that we needed a popular nonpolitician.
The nature of my affiliation with the Herald Tribune had enabled me to know leading publishers, editors, writers, and artists. Directly or through mutual friends, we promoted the Eisenhower cause to the Scripps-Howard, Hearst, Knight, and other newspapers as well as to the leading magazines. Columnists such as Lippmann, Alsop, Lawrence, Drummond, and Krock were eventually to become strong factors in the development of public opinion for General Ike.
In addition to support from leading chains, the drive for the nomination was assisted by such influential newspapers as the New York Times, the Kansas City Star, and the Los Angeles Times. The Eisenhower war record, his understanding of foreign affairs and personalities, his universally appealing nature and behavior, his obvious integrity—all these elements helped break down the blind anti-Republican philosophy of the liberal writers and editors, many of whom had tagged Taft as an isolationist and Truman as a ward politician—whether unfairly or not.
When the Citizens for Eisenhower organization became a public fact in the summer of 1951, there was, therefore, an underlying nucleus of previous, building behind it. When two young amateurs in New Jersey, Charles Willis and Stanley Rumbaugh, began to organize Ike clubs, they were remarkably successful from the beginning. The Citizens for Eisenhower had become by June 1, 1952, the strongest and best-financed amateur political force the nation had ever seen. Because of the outstanding character of its local leaders, it had great influence on the delegates as well as the professional political elements behind them.
Those responsible for the financing of this group included the late W. Alton Jones, Clifford Roberts, Sidney Weinberg, John Flay Whitney, and Ellis D. Slater. The administration of the national Citizens for Eisenhower was in the hands of General Lucius Clay, Paul Hoffman, Walter Williams, Mary Lord, Sigurd Larmon, and Bradshaw Mintener.
Strong as this movement was and as influential as were the leading publishers, editors, and writers, the nomination could not have been possible without the selfless work of such political experts as Governor Dewey of New York, Herbert Brownell, Senator James Duff of Pennsylvania, Sherman Adams, Senator Lodge of Massachusetts, Governor. Arthur Langley of Washington, Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas, and Governor Dan Thornton of Colorado.
General Eisenhower had in late 1951 fixed the date of his return to Columbia University as June 1, 1952, feeling that his task at NATO would be completed as of that date. On June 4 he resumed his civilian life with a home-coming celebration at Abilene, Kansas. By this time he was, like it or not, a full-fledged candidate for the Republican nomination. The strong Taft trend had been slowed down by the primary write-in votes in New Hampshire and Minnesota. The professional group teamed up with the Citizens for Eisenhower to produce a hard-hitting political organization that gained daily in delegate strength against the front-running Senator Taft.
The home-coming Abilene television speech was delivered in the rain before a group of hardy townspeople standing in the fast-deepening mud in the local ball park. By five o'clock—speech time—the mud was ankle-deep in most places on the field. Altogether, this was an inauspicious beginning. Only a fire and brimstone speech could have overcome the miserable conditions, and Ike's speech was generally a disappointment.
Since TV had thus had its day, the newspapers eagerly awaited their opportunity on the following morning when the General was to hold a press conference in a local theatre without benefit of radio or television.
I had flown to Abilene with Joseph McConnell, then President of National Broadcasting Company and now President of the Reynolds Metals Company. To the consternation of my newspaper colleagues, Joe worked with his people at N.B.C. and his competitor at C.B.S. by telephone to get the networks cleared for Ike's press conference. And I, a newspaperman, worked with Ike and his staff in a traitorous endeavor to permit a telecast of the newspaper press conference. At midnight, General Ike agreed; Joe had the time cleared, and on this occasion, the General was in top form. The question and answer session was a great success and helped to wipe out the negative impression of the previous day.
During the ensuing month, until he arrived for the convention at Chicago on July 5, the General made several speeches. A number of delegates visited him at Denver and New York. In the speeches and in conversations with delegates, he simply stated his political philosophy and outlined the principles on which the nation should solve its problems and take advantage of its opportunities. He attacked no one; he curried favor with no one; he made no promises to special groups; he asked no one to vote for him at the convention.
As one delegation prepared to leave after a long session of questions and answers, the chairman said, "General, don't you have anything else to say to us? Don't you want to ask for our support?" Ike replied, "No, I have only one word of advice and that is, 'Let your conscience be your guide.'"
The story of his nomination at Chicago is well known, and I shall not repeat the details here. The public had achieved the political miracle of nominating a presidential candidate. General Eisenhower was probably the only candidate of either party since George Washington who was nominated without obligation or political commitment to anyone. President Eisenhower's appointment of cabinet officers, Supreme Court justices, and bureau personnel was unprecedented in that it had no taint of cronyism or political favoritism.
And that same unusual high principle and integrity characterized General Eisenhower's behavior in the election and throughout his administration.

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