by Tom Huston
The two most influential women on the American Right during the last half of the 20th century were Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Ambassador to the United Nations during Ronald Reagan’s first term, and Phyllis Schlafly, who never held any public office but who influenced public policy more significantly than most anyone who did. Schlafly died on Monday at age 92.
Both of these women were formidable personalities, well-credentialed and widely published. Schlafly’s first book “A Choice Not an Echo,” supporting the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964, sold an amazing 3,000,000 copies, one for every 13 people who actually voted for the senator. Jean Kirkpatrick’s speech at the Republican National Convention in 1984 (until Reagan she had been a Humphrey Democrat) was a tour de force: The “San Francisco Democrats,” she reminded the delegates, “always blame America first.” As it was, so it is.
For years, these two formidable women were sure to draw the largest crowds and the most enthusiastic responses from audiences at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Schlafly’s Eagle Forum was among the largest and most effective grassroots organization on the Right, and no Republican officeholder could ignore its positions on public issues. For more than half a century — from her advocacy on behalf of Barry Goldwater in 1964 to her endorsement of the candidacy of Donald Trump in 2016 — Schlafly was on the cutting edge of conservative politics in America.
Large numbers of able Republican women hold public office today, many of whom were inspired to get into the arena by Phyllis Schlafly, but none of them have her influence. Although much maligned by feminists, gays and other elements of the progressive coalition, she was a powerful force in American politics, and she leaves a big hole to be filled on the American Right.
Tom Charles Huston, A.B., J.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and Indianapolis developer, is a former associate counsel to the president of the United States.