In 1952, General Dwight David Eisenhower led Republicans out of the political wilderness, returning a Republican to the White House for the first time in 20 years and a Republican majority to Congress for only the third time in 20 years.
Today’s Republicans wander in another political wilderness, troubled by the incapacitated leadership of one of history’s most unpopular presidents and vexed by the loss of their congressional majority.
In 2008, could Rudy Giuliani replicate General Eisenhower’s 1952 victory? Seven historical parallels suggest that he could.
First, Giuliani, like Eisenhower, stands out as an authentic hero as a leader during a major crisis. After Eisenhower’s extraordinary success in leading the allied troops during World War II, both political parties wanted him as a presidential candidate. And today Giuliani is a national icon because of his exceptional leadership in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. As Eisenhower was then, Giuliani is now, the only candidate on the presidential campaign stage who has successfully lead Americans during a major crisis.
Second, Eisenhower and Giuliani share another significant quality – charisma. Giuliani’s magnetic personality, like Eisenhower’s, inspires enthusiasm, interest, and affection. Crowds flocked just to get a glimpse of General Eisenhower in 1952, and today they crowd lecture halls and arenas just to get within the sound of the voice of “America’s Mayor.”
Third, charisma’s political twin, popularity, fits like hand in glove with Eisenhower and Giuliani. People like a winner. Eisenhower exuded a winner’s confidence not only as a presidential candidate, but also during his presidency when he remained popular even while suffering from political miscues. Similarly, opinion polls show that despite Giuliani’s liberal stances on such issues as abortion, homosexuality, and gun control, social conservatives generally hold him in high regard, and many now support him. In 1952 conservatives who supported “Mr. Conservative,” Senator Robert A. Taft (Ohio) for the presidential nomination, set aside their ideological convictions to get on the Eisenhower bandwagon. Already in the 2008 race, the same may be happening for Giuliani.
A leading scholar in the intersection of faith and politics in the United States, Charles Dunn was named Dean of the Robertson School of Government in August 2004.
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