Throughout 1951 and the first months of 1952, Eisenhower's base of operations was France and his principal task was establishing working relations among the NATO powers. During this period the press had regular accounts of the campaign to draft him for the presidential nomination. Meanwhile, he was persistently visited by moderate and liberal inter-nationalist politicians and businessmen who urged him to run for president, some of them Democrats but the bulk Republicans.
There is good reason to believe that he could have been elected as a candidate of either party, although the conservative economic views he publicly expressed in 1949 and 1950, when he was not on active military duty, clearly implied what he did not make explicit until early in 1952—that he had been a lifelong Republican in his sympathies. The politicians who were most persistent and influential in pressing Eisenhower to become a candidate were moderates in domestic policy and internationalists in foreign policy. They, like other Republicans, were acutely aware that Democrats had controlled the White House for five terms and that President Truman's unpopularity made it possible to reverse that state of affairs. The Republicans who sought to draft Eisenhower recognized also that the overwhelming favorite among the small-town and rural Republican political leaders who could be expected to dominate the 1952 presidential nominating convention would be a dour, conservative, and distinctly uncharismatic symbol of Republican orthodoxy, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. They were certain that Taft would not win in their own constituencies and probably would not win nationally.
Privately, Eisenhower's domestic policy views were even more conservative than Taft's. Having seen inflation cut deeply into postwar defense budgets, he was a convinced fiscal conservative. He also was skeptical about many welfare policies, but electoral realism led him to insist that his party make clear its commitment to preserve and even incrementally expand the basic New Deal welfare reforms.
Eisenhower's reflections in his private diary make it clear that he did not want to become a candidate and would not have become one simply out of disagreement with Taft's domestic policy positions. But he was deeply concerned that Taft, if elected, would undermine the internationalist foreign and national security policies he had devoted himself to shaping. Early in 1952, Eisenhower cast the die, allowing Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts to enter him in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.
This made him a tacit candidate, but as long as he held his NATO office he refused to campaign or make campaign statements. He won the New Hampshire primary, producing clear evidence of his vote-getting power. Then he beat Minnesota's incumbent governor, Harold Stassen, as a write-in candidate in that state's primary. Thereafter he and Taft both won primaries, but the majority of the delegates were selected by party machinery, and a near majority of them were committed to Taft.
Eisenhower turned the tide when he returned to the United States, resigned his commission, and commenced an increasingly persuasive last-minute campaign just before and during the convention. Taft's majority depended on the votes of delegations from southern states, in which the Ohio senator's supporters were being challenged by Eisenhower supporters, who claimed that they had been improperly barred from delegate-selection caucuses. When procedural votes designed to bar the seating of Taft's contested southern delegates succeeded, the convention shifted in Eisenhower's direction. He was nominated by a slim majority on the first ballot, but his victory left Taft supporters embittered.
Eisenhower's campaign strategy and his handling of the period between his election and nomination reflect his preoccupation with consolidating his own forces and reaching out to broaden his strength. He immediately sought to bring his party together, most dramatically by signing a statement of Republican principles that Taft had drafted. His choice of Richard Nixon as the vice presidential nominee also was agreeable to the Taft forces. Nixon, because of the part he played in identifying the New Deal lawyer and foreign service officer Alger Hiss as an alleged Communist agent, personified the right-wing premise that the Democrats had been "soft on Communism."
Eisenhower threw himself into campaigning, traveling more than 50,000 miles by rail and air. The campaign was not without problems. He angered moderate supporters when he gave the appearance of having been conciliatory in Wisconsin to Senator Joseph McCarthy. At one point it became necessary for his running mate, Richard Nixon, to refute the accusation that as a senator he had unethically accepted financial support from a group of California businessmen. In spite of the campaign snags, Eisenhower's powerful public appeal was evident. Unlike his opponent, Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, he did not speak over the heads of his audience. When, late in the campaign, he promised to "go to Korea" if elected, implying that his military expertise would enable him to end the war, political observers correctly judged his victory to be a foregone conclusion. He garnered 55 percent of the popular vote (34 million to 27.3 million) and defeated Stevenson by a 442-to-89 electoral vote margin. He brought into office with him the first Republican Congress since 1947 and the only Republican-controlled Congress until 1995.
Even before the returns were in, Eisenhower exhibited the knowledge of government he had acquired over the years and his predilection for organizing his leadership systematically. On election eve he persuaded a Detroit banker, Joseph Dodge, to become his first director of the key planning organ of the presidency, the Bureau of the Budget. During the time between election and inauguration, it was Dodge's task to act as an observer from within the bureau while Truman's final budget was being prepared and to identify ways it could be cut to Republican dimensions. Eisenhower simultaneously announced the appointments of cabinet members and White House aides, including the aides who were to fill the new staff positions he had devised, such as a White House chief of staff, a presidential national security assistant, and a head of congressional liaison. A little-noted appointment to an unpaid but important position—a body for proposing the reorganization of government agencies—went to his brother and closest confidant, Milton Eisenhower, whose Washington experience had begun in the Coolidge administration.
Several of the announcements of cabinet appointments were delayed and made from his residence between 29 November and 5 December, when (for security reasons) Eisenhower secretly made his inspection trip to Korea. The procession of appointees leaving his home during this period provided his cover story—that he was at his home selecting appointees. Eisenhower arranged for the people he had selected for his cabinet to be flown to Wake Island in the mid-Pacific. Returning to the United States from Korea by ship, he met with this group, beginning his efforts to encourage solidarity and a common sense of purpose among his principal associates.