William A. Rusher, former publisher of the National Review and a leading strategist among American conservatives in the late 20th century, died earlier this week at the age of 87. The Washington Post’s obituary noted that “by the mid-1970s, Mr. Rusher was so distressed by moderates’ influence over the GOP that he proposed creating a third national political party composed of what he regarded as hard-line conservatives.”
I have no notes on Elly Peterson’s views, if any, on Rusher and his particular influence. But she was very much a part of the battle for the soul of the Republican Party that took place between 1964, when Barry Goldwater won the party’s presidential nomination but lost his race in a landslide, and 1980, when Ronald Reagan finally succeeded in capturing the White House. She was very concerned about the growing impact of conservatives on her party, and how they were changing it.
From Peterson’s perspective, party moderates “reached their apex” in 1968, the year in which Richard M. Nixon won the presidency after candidates such as Michigan Gov. George Romney and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller had sought it. Pointing to that year, she wrote in her self-published memoir that Republican moderates “had so many outstanding governors, senators, congressmen, but after losing, this group seemed almost blurred in the party structure and many dropped out of sight.” Peterson herself stepped down as assistant chairman of the Republican National Committe after the mid-term elections of 1970.
Peterson also remained frustrated that moderates seemed to lack the kind of “fire in the belly” that conservatives had. “Moderates,” she wrote a few years later, “just don’t care enough to fight constantly to win. They will pour out their life’s blood for a month, or even three months, but when the battle is over, they want to go on to other things. It doesn’t seem to matter that much to them. Life goes on.
“Not so the right wing. . . . They have tasted victory and they have tasted power . . . and they like it. They will make NO concessions to moderates, or liberals, but they expect to have concessions made to them.”
“The conservative movement,” Rusher told the National Review in 2009, “is far too big, now, to be put out of business.”