He made, she said, the “conservative pro-family movement into a fighting brigade instead of just a collection of naysayers.”
Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and House Republican Conference chairman, said Mr. Weyrich’s “influence reached from the corridors of power in our nation’s capital to the town halls and churches of heartland America and he will be deeply missed.”
In a profile in the June 17, 2005, issue of The Washington Times, Mr. Weyrich said conservatism, though built on ideas, is not an ideology. “It’s anti-ideology, a way of looking at the world, a way of life. … Conservatism gets off course when it becomes an ideology.”
Mr. Weyrich lived to see what he described as the happy phenomenon of the Republican Party - the shedding of its country club elitism and defining itself as America’s conservative party.
Mr. Weyrich exercised considerable influence over the years, helping build support for President Reagan’s sweeping tax cuts by bringing religious conservative leaders together with Jack Kemp, a then-New York congressman and the prime exponent of those proposed cuts. Mr. Weyrich served as the invaluable nexus between Catholics and evangelical Protestants on the one hand and conservative activists and Republicans on the other.
Much of Mr. Weyrich’s early years in Washington was spent tutoring religious leaders and activists in the ways of practical politics, telling the Rev. Jerry Falwell there was in America a “moral majority” - unaware of their potential power but waiting to be organized.
Mr. Falwell liked the phrase and adopted it for his movement.
One of Mr. Weyrich’s most public shows of force came right after George H.W. Bush became president in 1989. Mr. Weyrich testified against the defense secretary nomination of former Republican Sen. John Tower of Texas by raising questions about his moral character and personal life. That dealt the Tower nomination a fatal blow.
A Wyoming Republican named Dick Cheney would end up heading the Pentagon instead.
Early in his Washington career, he and another young conservative congressional aide, Mr. Feulner, learning from the Civil Rights movement, formed a network on the right and persuaded businessman Joe Coors to donate the seed money to start the Heritage Foundation.
But when Heritage’s financial backers didn’t want it to get into social issues, Mr. Weyrich split to found the Free Congress Foundation, Free Congress Political Action Committee and Coalitions for America.
Mr. Weyrich then formed three influential strategy groups to cover all the bases in Washington. His organizational innovations were nearly boundless. Meeting separately once a week for off-the-record sessions, for example, the Kingston Group devoted its firepower to economic issues, while the Stanton Group did the heavy lifting on defense-foreign policy and the Library Court (now called the Family Forum) strategized over social issues.
Mr. Weyrich is survived by his wife, the former Joyce Anne Smigun, sons Peter, Stephen and Andrew, daughters Diana Weyrich Pascoe and Dawn Weyrich Ceol, and 13 grandchildren.
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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