Howard Phillips was a magnificent anomaly in the worlds of politics and personal life.
During his 72 years, he went from being a Harvard-educated, unsuccessful Jewish Democratic candidate for public office to an evangelical Protestant Republican who founded the Conservative Caucus and led a decades-long crusade to end the government funding of the left that was taking place under GOP and Democratic administrations alike.
When President Nixon named him to head the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, the brainchild of Lyndon B. Jonson’s 1964 War on Poverty, and then asked Congress for more OEO money, Howie Phillips left, slamming the White House door behind him, citing principles over politics.
“The Nixon White House betrayed Howie after it installed him to close down OEO and then under political pressure decided to fold it into the Health and Human Services Administration while also retaining the left-wing Legal Services Corp.,” said former Phillips Chief of Staff Jay Parker.
In 1974, Mr. Phillips also left the GOP, fed up with its continuing failure to carry out anything resembling policies comporting with Mr. Phillips’ understanding of philosophical conservatism.
His love for his wife and six children was always on display, even if he at times had trouble remembering all the children’s names.
“One of my fondest memories of Howie would be when my son Ian and his daughter Alexandra sang in the Gonzaga College High School-Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School spring musical in their senior year,” recalled family friend Millie B. Hallow. “Howard, his wife, Peggy, my husband and I made all the performances and sat together for all of them. There was always an assortment of Phillips children with us in the seats, and Howard always fumbled on the names, including the daughter that was on the stage. Peggy was quietly indulgent.”
Mr. Phillips had no trouble remembering what he saw as the transgressions of the left.
“In the 1970s, Howie and other conservative leaders like Paul Weyrich, Ed Feulner, Morton Blackwell, Terry Dolan and Ron Godwin began meeting for breakfast at my home every Wednesday till the mid-1980s — the beginning of Hillary’s ‘vast right-wing conspiracy,’” said Richard Viguerie, an early founder of the conservative movement.
“By the early 1970s, no national conservative was more ideologically pure than Howie Phillips,” said Mr. Viguerie. “He was our true north, insisting that we never deviate from our principles.”
But Mr. Phillips’ stubborn adherence to principles was also his undoing as measured by electoral impact and public visibility. He helped found the U.S. Taxpayers Party, which morphed into the Constitution Party. Like others before him, Mr. Phillips’ conversion from major to third-party leadership made his criticisms of what was no longer his own party less newsworthy — and for some, less relevant.
He ran three times for president as a third-party candidate, never winning more than half a percent of the vote.
“From his early service in the Nixon administration, where he tried to undo the Great Society almost single-handedly, to his later quixotic runs for the presidency of the United States, Howie always marched tall and straight to his set of principles,” said former Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner. “Most of these principles were conservative, some were a bit quirky, but Howie always believed and always led.”
Until what his family described as his “peaceful” death in bed at home April 20, Mr. Phillips spent most of his 72 years tall and straight.