Paul Weyrich's Role in Republicans' Success; How the Party Threw Away the Majority He Helped Build

Article excerpt


The principal architect of the Republican Party's successes of the past 30 years is a man whose name is unknown to most Republicans.

Since his death Thursday, Paul Weyrich has been recognized by other conservative leaders and by the news media for his critical role in building the conservative movement. I have included him with William F. Buckley Jr., Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan as those whose faces would appear on the conservative movement's version of Mount Rushmore.

But as the tributes and career retrospectives have rolled in, one point that has been lost is that Paul also created the Republican Party that won the White House five times in seven elections and that ended a 40-year Democratic dominance of Congress.

It's not just that he was our master strategist - that he was the first conservative to reverse-engineer and replicate the liberal model for political organization. That's the model in which congressional staffs, think tanks and foundations, journalists, single-issue groups, PACs and lobbying groups work in harmony to bring issues to the fore, to spin those issues, and to bring pressure to bear on public officials.

And it's not just that, as many have noted, Paul coined the term moral majority. He did far more than come up with a snappy name for a political group. He foresaw what could be accomplished if social conservatives became politically active and overcame old divisions to work together, and by hard work, force of will, and powerful persuasion, he made his vision a reality.

In this regard, conservative leaders sometimes called him Saint Paul, after the man who had the foresight and determination to expand Christianity, then a Jewish sect, into the Gentile world. Paul Weyrich persuaded religious conservatives to overcome their aversion to politics and to become active citizens.

And he united people of different denominations, some of which had been antagonistic to each other in the past. Indeed, the religious conservative movement he created included Baptists and Methodists, Mormons and Catholics, and conservative Jews. As he brought those people together into the conservative movement, he brought them into the Republican Party.

In front of audiences across the country, he argued persuasively that the Democratic Party had abandoned its traditional values. In making this point, he was helped by Jimmy Carter's betrayal of the evangelicals who had been his base and who had made his election possible. For example, the Carter administration sought to strip the tax exemptions of church schools that were falsely labeled as segregation academies. …