The General and the Politician: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and American Politics.

Author:Wagner, Steven
Position:Book review

The General and the Politician: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and American Politics. By John W. Malsberger. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014. 265 pp.

Most studies of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon have presented a decidedly negative view of their relationship. These works have limited their treatment primarily to Eisenhower's attempt to "dump" Nixon as his running mate in 1952, his suggestion that Nixon "chart his own course" in 1956, and his response to a reporter who asked for one idea that Nixon had contributed to his administration: "If you give me a week, I might think of one." By focusing on these incidents, and on Nixon's often petty responses to them, historians have been able to conclude that the relationship between these men was strained, if not openly hostile. In his important book, The General and the Politician, John W. Malsberger, professor of history at Muhlenberg College, presents a far more complicated partnership.

According to Malsberger, two main factors were responsible for the relationship's complexity. First, the Republican Party was badly divided. Eisenhower's "Modern Republican" policies were vehemently opposed by conservatives. Nixon, however, had credibility with the Old Guard. This was why he had been chosen as Eisenhower's running mate. Eisenhower's use of Nixon as a bridge between the party's wings, however, often put the vice president in difficult situations. Second, the two men had very different values. Eisenhower was motivated by a sense of duty. He pursued the policies he did out of a sincere belief that they were for the good of both his party and the country. Nixon, on the other hand, was motivated almost exclusively by personal ambition. This made it impossible for the men to fully understand one another.

Despite these differences, Malsberger argues, "Both men came to learn, sometimes unhappily, that their goals could best be achieved by working together as a team.... Both men understood that their respective goals could be achieved only if the GOP was transformed into a modern, centrist party that had broad appeal" (p. xv). This realization led to a partnership that outlasted Eisenhower's presidency. The long-term success of this partnership, he maintains, has been misinterpreted by historians.

Malsberger rejects the traditional notion that Eisenhower was a "captive hero" outmaneuvered by "Tricky Dick," but he is unwilling to place himself in the Eisenhower revisionist camp, which, he...

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