The recent vacillations of President Eisenhower on his role in the elections of today and next November show his confusion about his duties to his party, as opposed to the nation as a whole. That he owes something to both follows from his double job as national leader and partisan politician, but Eisenhower is wondering about the extent of these interests and how to balance them.
At his press conference two weeks ago, the President said he did not want his office used as a tool in political struggles in any state or district. The Presidency, he said, should be above partisan conflict. Last Wednesday, he back-peddled considerably, stressing his great desire for continued Republican control of both House and Senate and admitting hie would do some campaigning toward this goal. On Thursday, he completed the switch, declaring through his press secretary that he favored election of any Republican, at any time, any place. Remove the party labels, and this last idea smacks of former President Truman's much-criticized equation of good Republicans with dead Republicans.
These views probably changed to the jingle of frenzied phone calls from Republican leaders. For the President's remarkable personal popularity makes his support valuable to any candidate. But regardless of motivation, both his first and last positions were wrong. Neither recognized the necessity of maintaining a balance between the national and party obligations of the Presidency. The middle attitude comes closer, insofar as it recognizes a President's interest in continued control of Congress by his party, but recognizes also this fact: Eisenhower can help Republicans more next year by pushing through his middle-of-the-road program than by stumping Congressional districts.
A President's program is the link between his party and his national duties. If he sincerely wants to effectuate his program he has an obligation to his party only insofar as his party supports him. Usually, the bulk of a President's support does come from this quarter. But in Eisenhower's case, he was not only elected by dissident Democratic voters: much of his support comes from Democrats in Congress. Those Republicans who have knifed the President in his efforts to push his program, he has no obligation to support.
This does not mean a President should campaign against members of his own party. For, as President Roosevelt learned when he tried his purge of 1938, many members of Congress have such firm grass roots they cannot be eradicated. Eisenhower should aim toward the same goal more subtly: by returning to his middle idea he should make it clear he will withhold endorsement from Republicans who actively oppose the main items in his program. Such a statement may goad Congress into some needed action, and will certainly better fulfill the President's role as leader of a nation.