Pursuing the "middle way": Eisenhower Republicanism, 1952--1964

Steven Thomas Wagner, Purdue University


Dwight D. Eisenhower's landslide Presidential election in 1952, while a momentous Republican victory after twenty years of Democratic rule, masked intense factionalism within the Republican party. Conservatives wanted to overturn a generation of New Deal/Fair Deal domestic policies and internationalist foreign policies. Liberal Republicans, with whom Eisenhower was associated, supported an active role for the federal government in domestic policy and an internationalist posture in foreign affairs. To conservatives these policies appeared to be a mere continuation of the Democratic party policies of the previous twenty years, but this was not Eisenhower's intention. The key to understanding the way Eisenhower differentiated his policies from Democrats to his left and conservatives to his right is his philosophy of the “middle way.” The “middle way” represented a political philosophy that believed that certain time-honored American traditions needed to be compromised in order to preserve the foundation upon which they rested. While Eisenhower shared conservatives' beliefs in limited government, free enterprise and individual initiative, he believed that occasionally, government had to infringe on these virtues in order to preserve the liberty that made them possible. Eisenhower's enormous popularity assured him re-election and high approval ratings throughout his eight years in office. Unfortunately, for Republicans, this popularity did not carry over to the party, a fact that contributed to the defeat of Vice President Richard Nixon in the presidential race of 1960. Nixon's defeat led to open warfare for control of the Republican party. Conservatives began a campaign to nominate Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, while New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller was the reluctant choice of the liberal wing. The nomination of Barry Goldwater, despite his devastating defeat in the general election, signaled victory for the conservatives in their factional struggle with Republican liberals for control of the party.




Roberts, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American history|Political science

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