Eisenhower’s Influence and His Costly Joke

72_2705_2President Eisenhower remained relatively well-liked in the time leading up to the election of 1960. He had provided significant leadership during World War II and was a devoted president during the Cold War. If he actively backed Nixon, his own vice-president, it could have made a significant difference. He refused, however. First, he did not want to influence the election; this election was about Nixon, and it had to be won through Nixon’s own efforts. Moreover, he did not want to provide support for one party over the other or get involved in political partisan arguments.  His lack of support may have severely injured Nixon’s campaign, especially when a reporter asked him what kind of role in decision-making Vice President Nixon had under his administration. In response to the question, Eisenhower answered, “If you give me a week, I might think of something” (Matthews, 153).  Kennedy’s team immediately used this answer to their advantage, using it as a political advertisement:

When asked about this in the first debate, Nixon was thrown on the defensive in a way Kennedy had not. He answered: “Well, I would suggest, Mr. Vanocur, that if you know the president, that was probably a facetious remark… I think it would be improper for the president of the United States to disclose the instances in which members of his official family had made recommendations… I do not say that I have made decisions, and I would say that no president should ever allow anybody else to make the major decisions” (Matthews, 154).  However, the damage had been done.

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