It is a poignant and historic moment: Conservatives have paused to mourn the death of William A. Rusher, the editor of the National Review for 31 years and an intellectual and ideological stalwart who helped shape the movement for more than five decades. He died Saturday at 87.
“The span and growth of the conservative movement follows the arc of Bill Rusher’s life and indeed, he had a leading hand in its growth and success. He helped move it from a theory embraced by a small group of intellectuals to a reality trumpeted by millions and around the world,” said Reagan historian and author Craig Shirley.
“But Bill is also a reminder of an era of conservatism when elegant ideas, philosophy and unshakable principles ruled the conservative movement, along with class, modesty and good manners.”
With Republican strategist F. Clifton White, Mr. Rusher persuaded then-Arizona senator Barry Goldwater to take on a run for the White House in 1964. He lost, but the effort emboldened the nascent conservative arm of the Grand Old Party, not to mention Ronald Reagan — whose presidential bid was successful 16 years later. Mr. Rusher was convinced that Reagan could have led a third political party that was both socially and fiscally conservative.
“Rusher was more than just a crucial figure in the history of the Right’s leading magazine. He was a conservative wise man whose many contributions to the conservative ascendancy are underappreciated. M. Stanton Evans has called Rusher ‘probably the most underrated major conservative leader,’” said Jed Donohue, vice president of publications for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and editor in chief of ISI Books.
“He played an active role in those trenches from the pivotal Goldwater campaign through the Reagan era and beyond. Perhaps most importantly, this erudite, witty, yet earnest leader served as an indispensable link between the Right’s theorists and its political practitioners throughout conservatism’s historic rise.”
Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, said that Mr. Rusher “was much more than ‘Bill Buckley’s publisher’. Yes, he was that, and yes, he did bring business sense, circulation growth, national attention and management continuity to the conservative movement’s leading publication for so many years, but, in addition, Bill Rusher was an independent voice for solid, grass-roots conservatism.”
Mr. Rusher, who died Saturday in San Francisco after a long illness, has Founding Father status to those with historic perspective.
“Bill was the last of a relatively small group of conservatives whose intellect, energy, work, sacrifices, and passion for freedom came together in the 1940s and 1950s to launch, build and nurture a cause that, in the 1940s, did not even have a name,” recalled Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com,
“Most conservatives today would not know of even a third of these men. But without them, there would have been no conservative movement in the 1960s, certainly no Goldwater presidential campaign, and probably no Governor or President Ronald Reagan,” Mr. Viguerie said. “Bill was a midwife and driving force in most all-important conservative projects in the mid 1950s through the 1980s.”
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