David Keene, a trusted adviser to presidents, a longtime champion of personal liberty and one of conservatism’s most respected voices, was appointed Sunday as the new opinion editor of The Washington Times.
Mr. Keene recently stepped down as president of the National Rifle Association after leading the group’s successful effort to block new restrictions on gun ownership and sales in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.
The Times also announced that Editor Emeritus Wesley Pruden, who came out of retirement to reorganize the opinion pages in January, will remain in a full-time capacity, directing and producing editorials.
“David has been a tireless advocate for conservatism, demonstrating time and again how the movement’s values and ideas can address the problems of the day. He’s a deep intellectual with the sharp wit, unwavering values and the endless civility needed to guide the thought leadership of Washington’s most important opinion pages,” said Larry Beasley, the president and chief executive officer of The Washington Times.
“David will bring a unique flavor and style to our opinion pages that will mirror our mission to serve a growing conservative audience,” Mr. Beasley said.
Added John Solomon, the paper’s editor: “At a time when the conservative movement is struggling to apply its values to the challenges facing America, we are lucky to have a leader of David’s caliber, wisdom and experience shape our opinion strategy. He is perfectly suited to craft the fresh policy ideas our readers have come to expect from The Washington Times’ opinion pages and to use our print, Web, TV and radio products to inspire a new generation of conservatives to find their voice, embrace innovation and reach consensus.”
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Mr. Keene will oversee the newspaper’s editorial page, commentary section and online opinion strategy. He inherits a department that includes some of Washington’s most-read columnists, including Emily Miller, Mr. Pruden, Sen. Rand Paul and Dr. Ben Carson, and routinely attracts guest op-eds from federal officials, members of Congress and global leaders.
Mr. Keene said Sunday that his goal will be to “continue to expand the reach of The Washington Times as the ‘go to’ publication for conservatives in Washington and around the country by giving readers access to solid, insightful and interesting conservative perspectives on public policy and politics that they can rely on.”
“Since its founding, The Washington Times has played a vital role as the conservative newspaper in Washington and one of the most widely quoted nationwide,” Mr. Keene added. “Presidents, elected officials and policymakers have relied on The Times, and our challenge is to expand our reach in new media and in this political era to provide a reliable, readable resource for conservatives and others across the country.”
In addition to his new role overseeing and writing editorials, Mr. Pruden also will continue to write his twice-weekly column, which has run in The Times for three decades.
“Wes has helped rebuild our opinion department, restocking our writing talents with the likes of Rand Paul and Ben Carson while rebuilding a consistent, cogent opinion voice for the newspaper. We’re thrilled Wes is staying aboard to help David and to keep his popular column bristling with wit,” Mr. Solomon said.
Mr. Keene’s selection was hailed Sunday across the conservative world.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Mr. Keene “a major voice defining conservatism in America for the last generation.” Former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton called Mr. Keene’s appointment a “great coup for The Times. No one knows Washington better than Dave.”
Conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, editor of The Daily Caller, called Mr. Keene the perfect blend of intellectual and outdoorsman.
“Dave Keene is one of the smartest, most principled people I know. He’s also an accomplished fly fisherman and sportsman, which is not a small thing in an age when so few people in the policy world ever go outside,” Mr. Carlson said.
An author, columnist and fixture on national television, Mr. Keene has championed conservative causes for more than five decades while offering advice to Republican presidents including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and countless candidates such as Bob Dole and Mitt Romney.
For nearly three decades, he was one of the most recognizable faces of the conservative movement as chairman of the American Conservative Union, the nonprofit group that holds the annual star-studded Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. As ACU chairman, Mr. Keene grew CPAC from four co-sponsors to hundreds and from 200 attendees to more than 11,000.
Mr. Keene, the son of Wisconsin labor union activists, got his start in politics during the 1960s, rising to become the national chairman of Young Americans for Freedom while a student at the University of Wisconsin. As a 24-year-old candidate for the Wisconsin state Senate in 1969, he won the endorsement of President Nixon and later served as an aide to Vice President Spiro Agnew.
He became Reagan’s Southern regional coordinator during the 1976 primaries and four years later served as national political director for George H.W. Bush’s 1980 presidential campaign. A favorite host of game dinners and poker games for right-leaning intellectuals, Mr. Keene soon became one of the leading voices of conservatism, offering relentless critiques of communism’s failures and tirelessly fighting to protect the personal liberties cherished by America’s Founding Fathers from what he often warned was an encroaching government.
Two years ago, he was elected president of the National Rifle Association, joining NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre in an effort to move the nation’s largest firearms organization into the digital era and to attract support from a new generation of gun owners who are younger, more female and more diverse than the traditional profile of American gun owners.
The NRA leadership faced the most serious attack on the Second Amendment in decades during Mr. Keene’s presidency. The Newtown shooting rampage shocked the nation in December, prompting President Obama and his liberal allies in Congress and the media to immediately launch a campaign to impose sweeping new restrictions on the Second Amendment.
By January, few doubted that the effort to curtail firearms rights would prevail, but under the leadership of Mr. Keene and Mr. LaPierre, the NRA fought back, mobilized its membership and launched a counterattack that ultimately persuaded the Senate to reject the gun control measures.
From the Sunday talk shows and print pages of newspapers and magazines to the podiums of local town halls, Mr. Keene and Mr. LaPierre rallied Second Amendment supporters. The organization’s membership grew from 4 million to 5 million as gun owners responded to their efforts.