The 1936 election produced the utmost apex of Democratic power since the Civil War, with Republicans reduced to less than twenty seats in the Senate and less than one hundred in the House. However, one bright spot for the GOP was in Massachusetts, in which Democratic Governor James M. Curley got no support in his bid for the Senate from FDR because he was corrupt, and as a result the leading namesake of the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, if you are somehow unfamiliar with the term) of Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (1902-1985), was elected.
From the age of seven, when his father died, Lodge had been raised by his grandfather, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Sr., who prepared him for a life in politics. He was a critic of the New Deal and although he voted against it a lot and sought to limit currently existing programs, he made notable exceptions in his votes for the Fair Labor Standards Act and to keep the Federal Theater Project. Lodge had a mixed record on foreign policy before World War II, as he voted against weakening the Neutrality Acts but voted for Lend-Lease and the peacetime draft. During FDR’s third term his politics began to change and World War II was helping shift him to the center. In 1944, he left office to fight in the war, where he served with distinction: in one incident he managed to single-handedly capture four German soldiers. Returning to America a war hero, Lodge faced a weak incumbent in 1946 in David I. Walsh, an aging, closeted homosexual who faced a sex scandal involving a male brothel (almost certainly a case of mistaken identity it turns out) and whose non-interventionist views on foreign policy had fallen way out of step with Massachusetts opinion by this time. He didn’t capitalize on the personal matters of Senator Walsh and won the election by about 20 points.
On his return to the Senate, Lodge was a leading voice for what was called “Modern Republicanism”, one that was staunchly internationalist and centrist on domestic issues. His average Mike’s Conservative Index (MCI) score in his post-war years was 47%, whereas by contrast in his first term in the Senate his average was 78%. The term “country club Republican”, often used by conservatives of the 1950s and 1960s to bash the elite moderates and liberals in the party, fit him exceedingly well given his politics and his aristocratic manner and dress. In 1952, conservatives wanted to nominate Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, who was still somewhat non-interventionist. Lodge was adamantly against Taft’s nomination for domestic and especially foreign policy reasons and recruited Dwight Eisenhower to run for the Republican nomination, with Lodge himself serving as his campaign manager. He was adept at his role and succeeded in securing Eisenhower the nomination as well as the election. However, there was something he overlooked: his own reelection.
The year 1952 was a tremendous turnover year in the Senate and Lodge thought that he was in a good position, but Congressman John F. Kennedy proved a formidable challenger. Kennedy’s grandfather, John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, had put up a spirited but unsuccessful challenge to Lodge’s grandfather in 1916. This time, the Irish Catholics would prevail over the WASPs: Kennedy upset Lodge by three points, an event that could partially be attributed to Taft supporters voting for Kennedy to spite Lodge.
Lodge, UN Ambassador
Although Lodge had lost reelection, Ike had a new job all lined up for him: Ambassador to the United Nations, a role which he served in for almost the entirety of his presidency. Although his grandfather had opposed the League of Nations, Lodge was an enthusiastic supporter of the United Nations and stated that “This organization is created to prevent you from going to hell. It isn’t created to take you to heaven” (Hanhimaki, 2). He managed to gain a great deal of popularity as he often debated with Soviet Union representatives and ripped on the Soviets on television. In one instance, he responded to their accusation that the U.S. was responsible for aggression worldwide stating, “Membership in the United Nations gives every member the right to make a fool of himself, and that is the right of which the Soviet Union, in this case, has taken full advantage of” (Barnes, 1985). In 1959, Lodge escorted Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in his tour of the United States.
One controversial part of his tenure was his backing of a CIA-backed coup overthrowing Guatemala’s legitimately elected government over fears that a communist takeover could occur and his strong-arming of Britain and France to support the US, lest they lose US support in their colonies.
Lodge Joins the Republican Ticket
In 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon sought to succeed Eisenhower and picked Lodge, thinking that this would appeal to the party moderates, help him in the Northeast, and add some needed personal charm to the campaign. However, Lodge was not quite the nominee Nixon had hoped for, and on the campaign trail he pledged, without consulting him beforehand, that he would appoint a black American to the Cabinet. Nixon’s campaign then had to issue a press release stating that there would be no discrimination in appointments. This had the effect of reducing votes from Southern whites, reducing votes from Northern moderates and liberals, and it didn’t even get a good reaction from black voters, many who found it to be pandering. Eisenhower blamed Lodge for losses in the South, stating after the election that “Cabot Lodge should never have stuck his nose into the makeup of the Cabinet. Promising a Negro cost us thousands of votes in the South, maybe South Carolina and Texas” (Pipes, 274). In addition, Lodge couldn’t win his home state given Kennedy was at the head of the Democratic ticket.
New Presidency, New Job
Despite having been on the losing ticket, Lodge eventually was appointed by his old rival Kennedy to the position of Ambassador to South Vietnam, and he took it out of a sense of patriotic duty despite Eisenhower warning him against it. Both men opted to permit a coup that resulted in the assassination of Ngo Diem for his persecution of Buddhists, who constituted a majority of the population. However, Lodge in the following year realized that this had been a mistake since it emboldened communist insurgents and unsuccessfully advocated for making South Vietnam a protectorate of the United States, echoing his grandfather’s support of annexing the Philippines. He warned that the alternatives were military escalation or abandonment, both of which would occur in the coming years. In June 1964, after Lodge won the New Hampshire primary without even announcing his candidacy, he decided to give it a go and resigned as ambassador. However, the conservatives united behind Goldwater and he secured the nomination instead. Lodge returned as Ambassador to South Vietnam in 1965, serving until 1967. For the final months of Johnson’s presidency, Lodge was Ambassador to West Germany.
The Nixon Administration
Like with previous administrations, Nixon had a job for Lodge: heading the peace negotiations with North Vietnam in Paris in 1969, which proved unsuccessful. In 1970, he was appointed Personal Representative of the President to the Holy See, as the United States did not yet have an ambassadorship to the Vatican. It was at the end of Ford’s presidency that Lodge decided to retire to Massachusetts, bringing to an end a forty year career in national politics.
A Kingmaker, Directly and Indirectly
Although Lodge is not necessarily a name that people recognize today, his actions in 1952 made it possible for two men to be president: his recruitment of Eisenhower and devotion to his campaign helped get him elected while his neglect of his own reelection campaign got John F. Kennedy elected to the Senate, and without this Kennedy would not likely have been president. Lodge also impacted rule outside of the United States through his support of the CIA-backed coup in Guatemala and a pledge not to intervene in a planned coup in South Vietnam enabled a deadly regime change.
Barnes, B. (1985, February 28). Henry Cabot Lodge Dies at 82. Washington Post.
Hanhimaki, J.M. (2008). The United Nations: A very short introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Pipes, K.S. (2007). Ike’s final battle: The road to Little Rock and the challenge of equality. Los Angeles, CA: World Ahead Books.