So fixated are we now on the divisions between the two major parties that we forget how often internal divisions within one party or the other shape political outcomes. A rich history could be written of the conflicts that have sundered presidents and congressional leaders of the same party, in some cases friends who turned into bitter foes. The Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, who probably had closer ties with the Senate than any other president before or since, tangled with Dixiecrats on civil rights and then with northern liberals, including his former ally Eugene McCarthy, on Vietnam. In 1990, House Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, attacked George H. W. Bush for cutting a budget deal with Democrats and helped doom his reelection bid in 1992. It was Republican legislators who stopped George W. Bush’s attempt to reform immigration, helping wreck his second term.
David A. Nichols’s Ike and McCarthy is a well-researched and sturdily written account of what may be the most important such conflict in modern history: the two years, 1953 and 1954, when Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first Republican president elected since Herbert Hoover, found himself under assault from the demagogic senator who perfected the politics of ideological slander. Joseph McCarthy had begun his rampage against “subversives” in the federal government, some real but most of them imagined, during the Truman years, amid the high anxieties of the Cold War. Hostilities had broken out in Korea, and threatened to draw in “Red China” (which had been “lost” to the Communists in 1949) or escalate into a doomsday showdown with the Soviets, newly armed with the atomic bomb. Meanwhile, billions were being doled out in foreign aid to left-wing governments in Western Europe, and homegrown spies like Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg had been uncovered and exposed.