Movement Conservatism

The Father Of The Tea Party

In a generally unsympathetic review of David Frisk's If Not Us, Who? for The New Republic, Geoffrey Kabaservice details Bill Rusher's groundwork in forming the modern Republican Party.

Rusher was something of a sage, outlining the conservative future in 1963 in his essay “Crossroads for the GOP,” which called for the joining of white Southern populists with traditional-minded economic conservatives—a prophetic glimpse of the Southern Strategy that began under Richard Nixon and has continued to the present day. But he had little confidence in his vision. He was quite skeptical that the Republican Party could ever be converted, and devoted much of his energies to a quixotic quest for a conservative third party. As late as 1979, he called the Republican Party “that putrefying corpse,” and asked a friend, “Do you see the slightest evidence that the GOP is really going anywhere?” Ironically, it is Rusher’s polarizing caricature of an America divided into “producers” and “non-producers” that has lived on in the Tea Partiers today.

But Frisk makes a strong case that Rusher was not a mere populist propagandist. Though he was passionately opposed to abortion, for example, he warned pro-lifers that American democracy “requires constant compromise among people who differ passionately.” Still, Rusher was, as he put it (paraphrasing Napoleon), “not very fond of women or games. ... 100 percent a political animal.” Partisan politics colored his whole life, and he apparently had only a single Democratic friend. And he was, ultimately, a hard-shelled conservative warrior.