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Tags: Crane | conservative | Goldwater | Reagan | Republicans

Rep. Phil Crane, Like Goldwater and Reagan, Blazed Conservative Path

John Gizzi By Monday, 10 November 2014 09:31 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

For older conservatives, it was poignant that the news that former Rep. Phil Crane (R.-Illinois) had died on Nov. 8 came only a few days after the 50th anniversary of Barry Goldwater’s historic run for the presidency.

Following in the trail blazed by friends Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, Crane (who was 84 at the time of his death) was one of the premier movers and shakers of the conservative movement in Congress. Whatever the conservative cause — from keeping the Panama Canal, to the Reagan presidential campaign of 1976, to the efforts to cut taxes across-the-board and defund the National Endowment for the Arts — Crane was inevitably in the forefront of the charge during his years in Congress from 1969-2004.

As Illinois research director for the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and one of only ten U.S. House Republicans to back Ronald Reagan over President Gerald Ford in 1976, Crane had close ties to the two leading political figures of postwar conservatism.

"The biggest difference between conservatives of today and in the past is that the younger people are almost unaware of the defeats and setbacks we experienced in the early days, when Goldwater lost and the Heritage Foundation, conservative talk radio, and Fox News didn’t exist," Crane told this reporter in an interview shortly before he left Congress in 2004.

"The younger generation doesn’t remember the ancient battles, or that Democrats held the House for 40 uninterrupted years until 1994, or that it was going to take a long time for conservatives to accomplish anything."

With his dry wit, movie-star handsome looks, and encyclopedic knowledge of issues, the onetime Bradley University (Illinois) history instructor was a popular fixture on the campus speaking circuit in the 1960s and '70s, and a key motivator of young people into the modern conservative movement.

Upon learning of his death, many conservatives started reminiscing about hearing Crane  lecture at their alma mater and later listening to him discourse on issues and philosophy over his favorite Heineken beer and ever-present Camel cigarettes.

Much like the young William Buckley when he wrote "God and Man at Yale," Crane first caught conservative eyes nationwide with the publication of a book: "The Democrats' Dilemma" in 1964. The book prophetically made the case that Jeffersonian Democrats could no longer remain in the Democratic Party as moved to the left.

"I first met Phil when I was a television newscaster in Wisconsin in 1964 and interviewed him about his book," the late Paul Weyrich, who would go on to become a leading national conservative activist, once recalled to me. "I knew immediately he was going places."

He did. In 1969, when then-Rep. Donald Rumsfeld (R.-Illinois) resigned to take a position in the Nixon administration, first-time candidate Crane came out of nowhere to run for his seat in a special election. With an eager cadre of young volunteers behind him and his campaign coffers fueled by the national Goldwater contributor lists, the college professor-candidate topped a field of eight candidates in the all-important Republican primary.

As chairman of the American Conservative Union in the late 1970s, Crane became a national figure in the fight against the Carter administration’s plan to give away the Panama Canal.

For more than a decade, his "Crane Amendments" to defund the National Endowment for the Arts were regular fixtures in House debates on the budget.

Noting that the NEA budget grew under Bill Clinton and that Republican President George Bush hosted a White House event to celebrate the arts agency’s 40th birthday, Crane told this reporter in ’04 that "once [government agencies] get created, they achieve immortality. Jimmy Carter kept his promise to the National Education Association and supported creation of the Department of Education [which the House voted for by four votes in 1979]. We promised to abolish it, we didn’t, and now that promise is no longer in the Republican platform."

Many conservatives grew disappointed with Crane in 1980, when he insisted on running for president even as their hero Reagan was gearing up for another race. Along with the miserable record of House members seeking the presidency, Crane’s candidacy worried conservatives because they felt it would take votes from Reagan.

"In 1979, I truly believed that Ron Reagan would make an announcement that 'Nancy and I are retiring to the ranch,'" Crane explained . "I felt we needed someone in the race who would carry the conservative banner of Reagan and Goldwater just in case Ron didn’t run."

Crane’s campaign fizzled following a dismal showing in the New Hampshire primary. He later withdrew from the race and backed Reagan, who, he insisted, "never held it against me ... we talked frequently throughout his presidency."

The Illinoisan’s later years in Congress had many unhappy moments. Having won acquittal in a trial for driving under intoxication, Crane eventually admitted alcoholism and sought treatment at a clinic. The longtime champion of the flat tax lost a bid for chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee in 2001.

Three years later, unfavorable redistricting and a well-funded opponent finally spelled defeat for the lawmaker who was by then the senior Republican in the House.

But Crane was not bitter and, at the time, was optimistic because "there is a lot of young leadership blossoming to lead conservatives in the 21st century." He cited Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Indiana), then chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, whom he described as a "committed young man" who fully understands the issues of lower taxes and smaller government.

Pence is now governor of Indiana and often mentioned as a presidential candidate.

Like Barry Goldwater, Phil Crane never became president. But his energy, commitment to cause, and daring to be conservative when it wasn’t fashionable showed him to be a man of consequence who touched the hearts and minds of many.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

For older conservatives, it was poignant that former Rep. Phil Crane died on Nov. 8, only a few days after the 50th anniversary of Barry Goldwater's historic presidential run.
Crane, conservative, Goldwater, Reagan, Republicans
Monday, 10 November 2014 09:31 AM
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