Howard J. Phillips, a man who played a crucial role in bringing the New Right into the mainstream of American politics, much to the chagrin of Democrats and so-called “Rockefeller Republicans,” died April 20 at his home in Vienna, Va. He was 72.
The cause was frontal lobe dementia, according to his sister, Susan Phillips Bari. He will be laid to rest Monday at St. John’s Catholic Church Cemetery in Leesburg, Va.
“I am saddened by the death of Howard Phillips, a good friend of mine and a principled defender of freedom,” former Texas Congressman Ron Paul said in a statement to TheBlaze. “I knew Howard for many years and greatly valued his friendship and ongoing support for my efforts. He was a rare man of real character and courage and he will be truly missed.”
As acting director of President Richard Nixon’s Office of Economic Opportunity charged with the task of dismantling Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, Mr. Phillips was steadfast (he was ultimately unsuccessful due to a judge’s ruling against his efforts). As founder of the Conservative Caucus in 1974, and a founding member of the Young Americans for Freedom, Mr. Phillips was tireless. As a three-time presidential candidate for the Constitution Party (formerly the U.S. Taxpayers Party), Mr. Phillips was indefatigable.
As a defender of civil liberties and a tireless advocate for the unborn, he was unwavering.
In fact, so dedicated was he to the principle that all children have the right to life, that Phillips lobbied against the nominations of Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter to the United States Supreme Court.
“[A]s a Justice of the Supreme Court, there is no possibility, unless he has a change of heart, that [Justice Souter] would accept the concept of the personhood of the unborn child and that, beyond that, because he rejected the concept of the person as a human being,” Phillips said during Souter’s confirmation hearings in 1990, “his decisions about when and whether abortions might be performed would be based on entirely pragmatic considerations.”
He was less than enthusiastic about Justice Ginsburg.
“I…urge that Mrs. Ginsburg’s nomination be rejected by the Senate on grounds that the standard of judgment she would bring to the Supreme Court on the overriding issue of whether the Constitution protects our God-given right to life, is a wrong standard,” said Phillips during the Ginsburg hearings in 1993.
“Instead of defending the humanity and divinely imparted right to life of pre-born children, she would simply be another vote for the proposition that our unborn children are less than human and that their lives may be snuffed out without due process of law, and with impunity,” he added.
Mr. Phillips was born in Boston on Feb. 3, 1941. He was raised Jewish but later converted to Christianity in the 1970s.
He attended Harvard in the late 1950s and spent most of his time concerning himself with conservative activities, most notably the founding of the Young Americans for Freedom during a meeting at the home of conservative legend William F. Buckley.
Phillips graduated in 1962 and went on to become the chairman of the Boston Republican Committee. It was later in his political life, after his unsuccessful run as Nixon’s OEO, that he realized conservatism needed a shot in the arm.
That’s when he decided to form the Conservative Caucus.
“Conservatives used to believe their job was to lose as slowly as possible,” Phillips once told the New York Times. “I don’t just want to slow the train down; I want to put it on another track.”
“[H]e approached me with the idea to start a national grassroots conservative public policy organization to be called The Conservative Caucus,” Conservative HQ Chairman Richard Viguerie said in a statement.
“The Viguerie Company quickly launched a national direct-marketing campaign seeking members and financial support,” the statement adds. “It wasn’t long before the Caucus, with Howie as Chairman and over 300,000 supporters, was the largest and most effective grassroots conservative organization of the time.”
In his effort to spread the message of conservatism, Phillips visited almost all 435 congressional districts in his search for candidates and activists.
“He was one of the few conservative leaders who was there at the beginning and was there for 30 years providing strong, effective grassroots leadership,” Viguerie told TheBlaze in a phone interview.
“He was our true north. He kept us on the right path,” Mr. Viguerie added. “He was an indispensable part of the formation of the modern-day conservative movement.”
After Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush failed to adequately demonstrate what he believed were principled conservative positions, Phillips left the GOP and in 1991 formed the Constitution Party (formerly the U.S. Taxpayers Party).
He ran as the party’s presidential nominee on three separate occasions. His best year was in 1996 when he got 0.20 percent of the vote.
“Every vote I get is a victory,” he said.
He stepped down as chairman of the Conservative Caucus in 2011 as his health continued to deteriorate.
Howard Phillips is survived by his wife of 49 years, Margaret Blanchard Phillips, of Vienna, Va.; six children, Douglas Phillips, Amanda Lants, Bradford Phillips, Jennifer Phillips, Alexandra Phillips, and Samuel Phillips; his sister; and 18 grandchildren.
“His dedication to conservative beliefs was beyond question. In fact, Howie was there at the beginning of Hillary Clinton’s ‘vast right-wing conspiracy,’” former longtime Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner said in a statement.
“When conservative leaders such as Paul Weyrich, Morton Blackwell, Terry Dolan, Ron Godwin and I began meeting for breakfast at Richard Viguerie’s home every Wednesday, from the 1970s until the mid-1980s, Howie was right there, helping to shape and lead the conservative movement.
“Howie always marched tall and straight to his set of principles. Most of these principles were conservative, some were a bit quirky, but Howie always believed and always led,” the statement adds.
Indeed, Mr. Phillips’ reputation for adhering to principle, whether it involved opposing Democrats or Republicans, was viewed with admiration by many on Capitol Hill.
“One thing’s for certain,” said then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) on day four of the Ginsburg confirmation hearings, “you’re certainly non-partisan in your criticism. Last time you were here…you were not reluctant to oppose a Republican nominee and you’re not reluctant to oppose a Democratic nominee.”
“I am non-partisan,” Phillips joked. “I’m bipartisan.”
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