(March 26) Some people leave an immensely greater mark on a nation’s history than the bulk of the public ever recognizes. Bill Brock, the former U.S. representative, senator, Cabinet member, and Republican National Committee chairman who died on March 25 at age 90, was certainly in that elite category.

By the standards of the 1970s, when his influence was greatest, Brock was a centrist conservative, acceptable but not entirely part of either camp of the Republican divide between short-term president Gerald Ford and California ex-Gov. Ronald Reagan. When Ford was considering various people to serve as his vice president, Reagan sent word that Brock was among a short list acceptable to him. Yet, later, Reagan and Brock would be at loggerheads as Brock essentially opposed Reagan’s four-year drive for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination.

Still, it was in those four years that Brock arguably did more than anyone but Reagan himself to make the Republican Party viable again after the embarrassment of Watergate and Ford’s loss of the presidency to Jimmy Carter. Despite his quarrels with Reagan, Brock, as RNC chairman, was an absolute tour de force, resurrecting a moribund party with great skill in multiple ways. Brock professionalized RNC operations and greatly expanded its fundraising base in the conservative grassroots rather than relying on a smaller coterie of big donors — a move that built RNC coffers from just $19 million in 1976 to $45 million in 1980.

He also worked to coordinate winning messages built around a focus on well-chosen issues appealing to a broad swath of the electorate. Chief among these issues was the across-the-board income tax cut championed by Rep. Jack Kemp of Buffalo (along with Senate sponsor William Roth of Delaware). These days, it is hard to remember that tax cuts were hardly Republican orthodoxy at the time, with the Ford wing opposed and with future president George H.W. Bush ready to dismiss the idea as “voodoo economics.” Yet, by early 1978, as described by Reagan biographer Craig Shirley, “Bill Brock saw the potency of the tax-cutting issue….”

[The full column is here.]


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