More than fifteen years have passed since Louis Galambos and Daun van Ee finished editing The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower in XXI volumes. The last volume published in 2001 included 1960 and the 1961 transition from Eisenhower to John Kennedy. Another volume was contemplated for the Eisenhower post-presidency, but it never came to fruition. While many scholars have consulted Eisenhower’s post-presidential manuscripts, no one has written a book on that entire period. Richard Filipink Jr. came out with Dwight Eisenhower and American Foreign Policy during the 1960s in 2015, covering Ike’s role in foreign affairs during the post-presidency in 117 pages.
Professor Filipink did not mention Ronald Reagan’s association with Ike even in passing. This is the void that Gene Kopelson has filled. He successfully makes the argument that Reagan contacted the former president after the 1964 presidential elections and saw Ike as a mentor for the next five years until Ike’s death. In addition, Reagan’s 1968 Dress Rehearsal references almost every pertinent document, published oral histories that discuss Reagan’s role in his attempt to win the 1968 Republican nomination for president. Kopelson also conducted a considerable number of oral histories with central characters.
While these contributions are substantial, he exaggerates Ike’s connection to Reagan alleging that Ike looked upon Reagan as a protégé and the individual that the former president most preferred to win the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. Ike did encourage many to consider running for the presidency during his own time in the White House, including Richard Nixon, Robert Anderson and even John Foster Dulles.
To place Reagan alone at the pinnacle was not Eisenhower’s style. Indeed, if Kopelson had consulted Ike’s published private papers, he would have discovered how the president encouraged others to run for the White House.
Kopelson singled out that Ike held Reagan in such “high esteem” that the former president shared his “biggest mistake” with the governor. That was the appointment of Earl Warren to the Supreme Court. Ike told others about his regrets for making this selection, an account that has been widely reported. Another misconception that the author claims is that only a few historians discussed Ike and Reagan’s religious faith. While most scholars do not delve into this aspect of the presidents’ lives, a subset of religious historians regularly discuss this perspective.
Many authors have written about the race for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. By an exaggerated reliance on Reagan’s role in that contest, Kopelson loses perspective. Reagan comes through as a multifaceted individual. No one else does. The author’s portrayal of Richard Nixon concentrates on how afraid he was of Reagan’s challenge and not on how Nixon won the nomination. Barry Goldwater opposed Reagan’s rise, but why did he support the former vice president and abandon Reagan? While Nelson Rockefeller had a significant role as a liberal challenger, Kopelson does not demonstrate the New York governor’s significance as a Republican politician. Richard Norton Smith’s biography of Rockefeller, On His Own Terms, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, would have answered many of those questions. More troubling, Kopelson relies on Stephen Ambrose for his biography of Ike; Ambrose has been discredited for conjuring up interviews with the former president that never took place.
This volume has also fundamental flaws that should have been corrected with the assistance of a good editor. First, there are too many factual errors that a fact checker could have caught. The “missile gap” was disproven early in the Kennedy administration, and not during the 1968 campaign. Ike and Nixon did not distrust one another; in fact, they formed a successful working relationship. Nixon did not move to New York City in 1961 and returned to California to run for governor in 1962. He became a partner in a Los Angeles law firm after he left the vice presidency. Lastly, Indiana University is the correct designation, not the University of Indiana.
Kopelson routinely repeats himself, and regularly informs the reader that of what he had said or what he intends to say in a later section. Some grammar needs to be changed. When referring to the Reagans, the author uses Reagan’s. In one paragraph he spells author Geoffrey Kabservice, and later in the same paragraph correctly as Kabaservice. The author also does not know the proper usage of ellipses.
The principle theme of the Ike-Reagan association is a worthy subject. It should have been accomplished by avoiding unnecessary weaknesses. A competent editor would have assisted in making this volume much better by preventing repetition and exaggerations. It is far too long and should have been shortened by half; that is the editor’s mandate. A professional copy editor would have corrected the grammar, and a fact checker would have removed factual errors. This could easily have been a much better book and would be worthy of a rewrite edition.
Irwin F. Gellman is the author of The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon, 1952-1961and four other books on American presidents. His next book, which he is currently working on, is a volume on Nixon and Kennedy.