In my latest reading of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, Stephen Ambrose talked about Dwight Eisenhower’s wavering over whether or not Richard Nixon would be his Vice-Presidential candidate in 1956.
Why was Eisenhower thinking about dropping Nixon? First, there were questions about Nixon’s popularity, for Nixon had a reputation as an attack-dog against Democrats. Eisenhower not only desired to work with Democrats and desired Democratic and independent votes, but there were times when he wondered if Democrats would be friendlier to his agenda than were some of the conservative Republicans in the Congress. Second, Eisenhower thought that Nixon was immature, and Ambrose, while denying that Eisenhower and Nixon were ever close, attributes this to a fatherly feeling that Eisenhower had towards Nixon. After all, Eisenhower felt that Nixon was immature even when Nixon was in his fifties, so did Eisenhower ever feel that Nixon attained the level of maturity that Eisenhower desired to see? And, third, Eisenhower wanted for Nixon to gain administrative experience within a Cabinet post.
Nixon was frustrated by Eisenhower’s equivocation—-Eisenhower’s failure to arrive at a timely decision about whether Nixon would stay or go. Moreover, Nixon feared that being dropped from the Vice-Presidential ticket and sent to the Cabinet would not look good for him politically. After all, after President Franklin Roosevelt dropped Henry Wallace as his Vice-President, put Wallace into the cabinet, and made Harry Truman the Vice-President in Wallace’s place, the turnout was that Truman became President, whereas Wallace sunk into political irrelevance. Nixon didn’t want that sort of thing to happen to him!
Well, Nixon was kept on the 1956 ticket. It was around this time when Nixon’s father Frank was sick and was dying. When Nixon flew to be with his father, Frank told him to get back to the convention to fight for his position! But Nixon stayed with his father, and, when Nixon was nominated to be Eisenhower’s running mate in 1956, Frank felt better in terms of his health. But Frank soon passed on.
1956 was when we saw the “New Nixon”, the one who did not attack his opponents as much but rather focused on the peace and prosperity during the Eisenhower years. A number of Democrats did not buy into the New Nixon. Meanwhile, there were Republicans who wanted the old, attack-dog Nixon back!