How Paul Weyrich Shaped the GOP Agenda, Part II
Elitists with a superiority complex: That might have been a shorthand (albeit simplistic and uncharitable) description of the Republican Party at the beginning of the 1970s. Today the description of the GOP is very different, and so is the political climate. A lot of the difference can ultimately be attributed to a man named Paul Weyrich, who deserves much of the credit for grafting the pro-life issue onto the Republican—and, thus, the national—agenda.
Some people blame Republican conservatives for “inventing” the pro-life issue to win votes. The truth is the opposite: The Republican Party was dragged kicking and screaming to a pro-life position in a complicated, multi-step, multi-year process that involved struggle with the Republican establishment, with conservative leaders, and, at times, with pro-life leaders. Herewith some highlights of how this transformation was accomplished. Much of the late twentieth-century conservative movement came into existence in the course of it.
Who Was Paul Weyrich?
Paul Weyrich was a radio news director in Denver when Colorado legalized abortion in 1967, and he was appalled. Three years later, he was a recently hired press secretary for Senator Gordon Allott (R-CO) when Congress enacted a billion-dollar birth control and population research authorization (known as Title X) without a single word of debate in the U.S. Senate,1 and he was horrified—horrified at what was being done, and equally horrified that nobody tried to stop it. He knew the joke circulating among Republican staffers on the Hill: The aide asks the member, “What do you want to do about the abortion bill?” “Pay it!” comes the response. Republicans in the Rockefeller-controlled wing of the GOP were no friends of life (see part one of this article in the Summer 2021 issue of HLR).
About the only segment of the politically active population that objected to Roe were Catholics—and most Catholics were blue-collar Democrats. Remember the leftwing origins of the pro-life movement2: As legalizing abortion was first becoming an issue in different states before Roe, Archbishop McHugh of the Catholic bishops’ Family Life Bureau was doing some important organizing. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, for instance, was founded in 1968.
Thus, pro-life leadership often came from those who had previously worked in the social justice campaigns of the 1960s, or who had roots in the Democratic Party and/or labor movements—issues where Republicans were mostly ranged on the opposite side. A 1972 abortion referendum in Michigan, for instance, was defeated with 61 percent of the vote by working across party affiliation. The leader of that effort, Marlene Elwell, who later helped organize Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, had marched with Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez. In New York, where Republican population controller Nelson Rockefeller was governor, pro-life energy had been channeled into a third party: The Right to Life Party was created in 1970.
Weyrich belonged to the wrong party, and worse, he was a conservative—thus not to be trusted on two counts. But he was on Capitol Hill, and he was already known in conservative Catholic journalism. Furthermore, he was not shy about speaking his mind and seeking out people who needed to hear his thoughts. So Weyrich quickly became the “go to” guy on Capitol Hill for pro-life activists until dedicated pro-life organizations came into existence.
“The Inside/Outside Operation”
On Capitol Hill, Paul saw the fruit of effective lobbying campaigns on different issues, and he wondered: How did all the activity actually get orchestrated? In 1968, as he later told journalist David Broder, Divine Providence gave him an “ah-ha” moment:
Senator Allott had a reputation for being a liberal on civil-rights issues, and in 1968 he was invited to attend a strategy session on open-housing legislation. He couldn’t go, and I asked him if I could attend in his place. And there, before my very eyes, was the coordination mechanism of the opposition I would see these battles come up in the Senate and I would see the orchestration of them, but until that meeting I never understood the mechanics.
They had the aides to all the senators there, and they had the authority to commit their bosses to specific strategies. They had the representatives of foundations, which could supply data on this or that. They had a legal group. They had the outside lobbying groups, and they could say, “We need some pressure when we get down the line, and if they come up with this amendment, we want the whole country alerted.” And they had a couple columnists who said, “I can write something, just give me the timing on it.”
It was one of the best meetings I ever attended, and it gave me a tremendous insight into how the opposition operated. I was determined from that moment on that if I had any reason to be here at all, it was to duplicate that effort on the Right.3
There was nothing on his side of the aisle that could begin to compare to the network that Weyrich witnessed in that meeting. In 1968 “Conservatism” as such barely existed, and certainly was not winning in Congress; those on the Hill who considered themselves conservatives (often by virtue of college membership in the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, or a subscription to National Review or Human Events) barely even knew one another. Republicans/conservatives had been on the losing side of almost every Hill and public opinion battle since the decline and fall of Joe McCarthy. Thus, they did not know how to win; they did not work in sync with each other; they had no means of giving a distant early warning to the public; and they did not have institutions or structures in place that would enable them to choreograph anything. Weyrich set about imitating the leftwing model he had observed (which already had all that and more in place) and creating the institutions and networks to make winning possible.
He called it the “inside/outside operation,” and it had four main components:
1) The Inside/Inside: a network of high-level Capitol Hill staffers on the inside of Congress who communicated accurate, timely advance warning about what legislation was moving ahead, what hearings were being planned, when votes were being scheduled, and which members of Congress were leaning in which direction and why.
2) The Inside/Outside: a team of intellectuals and writers ready and able to react quickly to the information from the Inside: to produce reliable research critiquing proposals or proposing alternatives, find expert witnesses to testify at hearings, and get all this information and these ideas into the hands of the media and onto the desks of members of Congress at the right time.
3) Elections: A majority of members of Congress who would vote right—preferably out of principle, but at least out of the fear of adverse consequences to their re-election. But first, people like that had to be elected, and the adverse consequences had to be real.
4) The Real Outside: A grassroots organization that could make senators and congressmen afraid to vote wrong because it had the power to deliver thousands of volunteers and activists who knew how to work in campaigns, organize demonstrations, make phone calls—and, in those days, send letters to Congress on short notice.
The “Inside/Inside” took the form of the Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives and the Senate Steering Committee in the other chamber. The Heritage Foundation was founded as the outside, think-tank part of the operation. The Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress taught conservatives how to win elections and proved it could be done. Weyrich helped set up numerous grassroots organizations, and he was the éminence grise of many because he could pick up the phone and talk to the chief—or give him or her a tongue-lashing, if he thought it warranted. The strength of his personality was the source of his power—that and his absolute, uncompromising adherence to unchanging moral principles and strict business practices.
The Inside/Inside: Republican Study Committee and Senate Steering Committee
Today, conservatives on Capitol Hill meet regularly, plan strategy, share staff, take initiatives, and fight offensive or defensive battles working together. But before Weyrich, it was not thus. In 1970, he organized the Conservative Luncheon Club so that conservative staff members could get acquainted with each other. A list preserved in his 1970 Scrapbook names 13 men as “Founders and Officers” from both Democratic and Republican offices. (There were still 30 to 40 Democrats in the House who would often vote with Republicans.) A sign of the times: A secretary would bring in sandwiches and soft drinks to the lunches at a cost of $3.25 per person.
Knowing other conservative staff didn’t create more time, however. In 1959 left-leaning Dems had organized the Democratic Study Group (DSG) to work smarter: Members contributed a piece of their staff budget to the DSG, which had its own staff of thirty who could be deployed as needed. Conservatives had nothing like this until 1973, when Weyrich and his friends were able to launch the conservative shared-staff arrangement called the Republican Study Committee (RSC).4 Two years later, Paul helped midwife a similar shared-staff arrangement in the Senate. This was the Senate Steering Committee; its founding senators insisted that conservative Democratic Senators Jim Allen (AL) and Harry Byrd (VA) be included. Until almost the end of Weyrich’s life, if he were in town, he never missed a meeting of the Steering Committee: He was the only non-U.S. senator to attend the meetings, other than senators’ staff.
The Inside/Outside: The Heritage Foundation
The Left’s outside think tank, The Brookings Institution, had been around since 1916. It essentially ran JFK’s famous Hundred Days.5 The American Enterprise Institute, founded as a pro-business think tank in 1938, had opposed FDR’s New Deal and suffered bureaucratic persecution for its support of Richard Nixon. Its president told Paul that he made sure AEI’s research papers on controversial subjects arrived on Congressional desks after the vote had been held, lest AEI run afoul of the IRS. Besides, AEI was in downtown D.C., a cab ride away from the Capitol, and Weyrich wanted his think tank to be in walking distance of where the action was.
He watched other Outside organizations help the Inside by doing research, gathering allies, supplying witnesses for hearings, sending experts to privately brief senators, and doing the myriad of other things that go into making a political issue rise to the top. The problem was how to fund such an Outside organization. In 1970, Divine Providence again intervened—this time through an intra-office error. The secretary who usually handled the mail in Senator Allott’s office was out one day; her substitute opened a letter that began “Dear Senator Allott, You may remember me. I was news Director at KBTR in Denver . . .” The substitute saw the radio station reference and put the letter in the press secretary’s (Weyrich’s) in-box. But the letter-writer went on to say: “I have been hired by Joe Coors to help him determine where he should put his money so it can further the conservative cause . . .” Had the regular secretary been in that day, Weyrich would probably never have seen that letter, which was signed by Jack Wilson, Joe Coors’ philanthropy officer.6
The misrouted letter sparked a relationship that changed the course of political history. Helping bring to birth The Heritage Foundation was the beginning of Coors’ lifelong generous philanthropic support of numerous conservative think tanks and public policy foundations—many of them first conceived in the mind of Paul Weyrich, and carried forward by his close associates. Heritage was the pioneer: It proved that respectable conservative research could be conducted and used effectively, and that donors would be willing to fund it.
After Roe v. Wade was handed down, the Northeastern libertarians on the Heritage board of directors would not allow Weyrich to touch the abortion issue. Weyrich was the founding genius, but he had to depend for implementation and funding on others who liked the idea of an Inside-Outside operation for different reasons, or to advance different agendas. So he left Heritage and went to work where he could make a direct difference for pro-life initiatives.
The Third Piece: Winning Elections
As Weyrich saw it, the best chance to pass a Human Life Amendment was for the Republican Party to take up the issue and become the majority in Congress. But first a majority of pro-life Republicans needed to be elected to Congress, and they needed to be running the party leadership. Conservatism was on the rise within the Republican Party, and Weyrich knew how to win elections. It was only a matter of combining the two elements . . . easier said than done.
Putting the election piece of the Operation into place required many steps and multiple election cycles. First, Weyrich had to prove that being pro-life would not doom a candidate to defeat—which was (and frequently still is) the default position held by the political establishment. To prove that, he had to raise money, train candidates, help them win, and repeat the process over and over again. A conservative movement had begun to emerge in the GOP in the wake of the Goldwater campaign of 1964, but it was mostly silent on moral issues. It was led by well-bred, well-educated, generally young (mostly) men, many of them from the Northeast. They were primarily motivated by anti-Communism and free-market economics—and for the most part innocent of theories of objective morality (an unfortunate educational gap, as the Sexual Revolution was raging). This movement had a flagship magazine, National Review; a Capitol Hill newspaper, Human Events; and campus presence via the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Young Americans for Freedom—but little popular outreach. True, there were some Catholics involved in the conservative resurgence, but conversations generally followed the rule of politeness and avoided religion—and abortion, after all, was perceived as just a “Catholic issue.”
Weyrich was not an intellectual; he often described himself as a “political mechanic.” He had grown up in the blue-collar town of Racine, Wisconsin, married before he was 21, and dropped out of the fledgling UW-Racine campus after being disgusted with the ideological slant of a teacher. Most of his relatives were Democrats and union members, and from childhood he had watched the machine identify and turn out voters to win elections. He arrived in Washington knowing something country-club Republicans did not: how to organize voters to win elections. In 1968, 1970, and 1972, he tested and applied his knowledge on a small scale by volunteering with the Committee of Nine, a zero-profile group of conservative senators and donors who offered some help to candidates. He observed a huge disconnect between conservative principles and campaign skills.
At this point in history, the human life issue could have been the Democratic Party’s for the taking, as the story of Nellie Gray so well documents. Nellie was a liberal Democratic federal lawyer who had been active in the Civil Rights movement. She was sure that her heroes (like Ted Kennedy) would recognize the Court’s mistake in deciding Roe and would immediately move to amend the Constitution so that human rights were protected. The Democrats had ready reserves of journalists and minorities and church leaders who would have been happy to blast Republicans for being racists and eugenicists once Democratic leaders explained what Roe and Doe actually did, and gave the signal to act. But the signal never came. Nellie was astonished that her Democratic heroes would not even give her the time of day. She could hardly believe it when the only senator who would take up the issue was James Buckley—a Republican and a conservative, no less. Nellie was shocked to find herself with Republican and conservative friends—and so were most of the people who came to the first March for Life in 1974.7 Nellie, who led the March for Life until her death in 2012, became a leader the same way most pro-life leaders did—because she saw a vacuum and she moved to fill it.
When the Democratic Party chose the other side, Weyrich moved to fill that vacuum.
In 1971, Weyrich developed his “Five and Thirty” concept: Five active, articulate leaders in Congress are worth more than thirty ordinary votes. When a candidate came on his radar, Weyrich would decide if he or she were one of the Five or one of the Thirty, and respond accordingly.
In 1972, he identified six candidates as the “Five”: Trent Lott had been a member of the Conservative Luncheon Club while he was an aide to Democratic Congressman William Colmer (D-MS); now he was running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican. Running for House of Representatives as Republicans were Steve Symms of Idaho, Bob Huber of Michigan, John Conlan of Arizona, David Treen of Louisiana, and Harold Froehlich of Wisconsin. All were pro-life. Not only were all six elected, but another 25 conservative new members were as well.
The election of 1972 did not give Republicans a congressional majority, though it sent Richard Nixon to the White House in a landslide. Although “acid, amnesty, and abortion” was not George McGovern’s actual campaign slogan, after Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) let the phrase drop in an interview with the Evans and Novak Report, it might as well have been, because that’s what the public remembered about George McGovern. McGovern’s campaign manager (and later NPR president) Frank Mankiewicz blamed that loose-lips comment for McGovern’s defeat. Real America, Nixon’s “Silent Majority,” roundly disliked abortion—and did not want a president who approved it.8
Then came Watergate, the ignominious fall of Nixon, and the collapse of the Republican Party. That ushered in the age of the PACs (political action committees). The very first PAC had been created by Congress in 1943 so labor unions could give money directly to FDR; in 1948 Eleanor Roosevelt founded the National Committee for an Effective Congress (NCEC) to fund the progressive side of politics. The 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act was the brainchild of NCEC, and further post-Watergate election reforms allowed PACs to solicit the public for donations for the first time ever. So in 1974 Weyrich founded a conservative PAC, the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (CSFC), and set out to do on the Right what NCEC did on the Left. Over the next years, directmail entrepreneur Richard Viguerie mailed millions of letters across the country to raise funds and simultaneously educate the public. In doing so, he identified millions of Americans with conservative sympathies, who were willing to support not only CSFC, but dozens of other new conservative organizations.
CSFC would be different from anything that the political world had seen before. First: It published The Conservative Register, a book-length scorecard of the entire Congress—more than 800 record votes on a wide range of topics— which was mailed out to millions of Americans. Today, it is hard to imagine campaign politics without voter scorecards, but Paul Weyrich created the first one on the Right. After a few years CSFC stopped this, as plenty of other groups had picked up the technique.
Second: He would not help incumbents, because he was looking only for new blood who were motivated by principle and who had leadership potential. He figured a member of Congress ought to be smart enough to use the perks of office to get re-elected. “I don’t waste time with losers,” was one of his slogans.
Third: He would take a side in a primary election, supporting the pro-life candidate even against a GOP favorite if he thought the pro-life candidate was sincerely pro-life and could win. This did not endear him to the Republican establishment, but his goal was to elect a Congress that put commitment to principle before commitment to political party.
Fourth: He trained conservatives on how to win so they could get themselves elected and then re-elected and thus achieve seniority in Congress. Toward that end, he required candidates and their key staff to attend intensive five-day workshops to learn the Kasten Plan. This system of campaign strategy and tactics is named after Wisconsin state senator (and later U.S. Senator) Bob Kasten, who first utilized the Plan, which had been worked out by Fritz Rench, a Racine businessman and friend of Weyrich’s since high school. The system covered all aspects of campaign technology, including the innovative use of hard voter data, and focused on “shoe-leather politics”: lots of direct contact between the candidate and the public, lots of door-knocking, lots of training and deployment of volunteers. CSFC’s field team constantly travelled around the country to monitor campaigns and offer help, and if a campaign did not follow the Plan, aid would be cut off. Part of the Kasten Plan was aggressive involvement of philosophical coalition partners, including pro-life and pro-gun constituencies: Nobody else was doing this at the time.
Fifth: Weyrich believed that elections could be won by making a clear contrast with one’s opponent—and abortion was an issue where a clear contrast could be made easily. When the contrast was drawn clearly, and the message reached the right audience through the candidate’s coalition strategy, the prolife issue could provide a 2 to 3 percent margin of the vote—enough to make the difference between loss and victory.
Not surprisingly, CSFC had little impact in its first year. By mid-1975, Weyrich had traveled to a dozen states, identified 100 actual or potential candidates in 20 states, personally met with 35 of them, and targeted 25 districts. The 1976 results were better: CSFC supported four of the senators who won election, and 30 of the 80 House candidates who ran, most of them unsuccessfully because the Democratic “Watergate babies” elected in 1974, the year of Nixon’s resignation, had figured out how to survive. Out of 78 up for re-election, 75 made it, a re-election rate of 94 percent.
As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, and conservative organizations began to appear like mushrooms after a rain, the media became aware of Weyrich, Viguerie, and Howard Phillips (founder of the Conservative Caucus), labeling them the “New Right.” Weyrich and friends happily accepted the moniker, because they were all from blue-collar backgrounds and proud of it, and they wanted to be differentiated from the Eastern Establishment/big money/Old Right.
In 1976 the Governor of California was running for the GOP presidential nomination, and Weyrich worked to make sure that pro-life was part of the Reagan agenda—by no means a foregone conclusion. Ronald Reagan had, after all, signed the abortion legalization bill in California, and the strongest influence on him, Nancy Reagan, was actively hostile to pro-life. “I don’t give a damn about the right-to-lifers,” Nancy retorted as she edited pro-life language out of her husband’s State of the Union speech one year.9 Her hostility was kept largely under wraps until 1994, when in a speech at George Washington University she proclaimed that “I believe in a woman’s choice” right after saying that she personally opposed abortion.10 At least during her husband’s time in office, she was not as outspoken as former First Lady Betty Ford was in 1975, when she said: “. . . it was the best thing in the world when the Supreme Court voted to legalize abortion, and in my words, bring it out of the backwoods and put it in the hospital where it belonged. I thought it was a great, great decision.”11
Weyrich officially laid down the gauntlet when he testified before the Republican Platform Committee in Kansas City in August 1976:
Conservatism means, first that the Federal government should be strong in those areas where it has a legitimate function, and second, that it should remain out of many areas of the national life where it has no business being. The right to life is the most fundamental of human rights. If the Republican Party fails to take a stand on this issue, it will reveal its basic corruption. . . . From [Roe v. Wade] there is no logical stopping point: if one accepts that decision, there is no logical reason to object to euthanasia or even to extermination camps for those who are politically inconvenient.
In conclusion, Paul issued a warning: “If we can work with the Republican Party, we shall be happy to; but if the conservative political cause can only be advanced in other ways, then we shall follow those other ways.” The Republican establishment was well aware that CSFC took sides in Republican primaries and targeted liberal Republican incumbents. For people who put party first and conservatism second, this reminded them how much they did not like Weyrich, even as it validated his own statements that his goal was a conservative pro-life Congress, not a Republican one. The response of the party reminded Weyrich how much he distrusted Republicans.
Before Election Day that year, Weyrich declared that a Carter victory would be a blessing in disguise for conservatives, because it would kill the Republican Party as a viable political institution and foster a new conservative party. National Review publisher William Rusher chorused his agreement, further demonstrating how vast the gap was between the rising New Right and the old Republican establishment. After Reagan withdrew from the 1976 race and Jimmy Carter became president, the idea of a third party faded, however, and by 1977 Weyrich was meeting regularly with Congressman Phil Crane (R-IL) to encourage him to run for president to the right of Ronald Reagan. Crane’s campaign imploded because his consultant Art Finkelstein would not allow him to engage on social issues12—the very issues that Weyrich knew would be the key to victory.13
CSFC’s road to victory tapped into the emerging base of passionate single-issue voters such as pro-life, anti-ERA, anti-pornography, gun rights, prayer in school, and right-to-work. In 1978 CSFC won real bragging rights: It was the first year the Christian Right organized nationally at the grassroots level. Campaign genius Marc Nuttle was fieldman for both CSFC and the Republican National Committee that year:
Christians began to appear at the campaign headquarters of congressional campaigns unannounced all over the country. Candidates asked [Eddie] Mahe [RNC Political Director] who they were and what did they want. Paul and Eddie sent me in to investigate. Come to find out they were Christians who were reading Tim LaHaye’s newsletter. Tim believed that Christian values and a moral way of life were being lost in the culture wars.
. . . we designed a training program just for Christians. List development, organizing churches, ID and turnout, and leafleting windshields were a few of many tactics prioritized. CSFC managed the training schools and the messaging. The RNC backed us up with the candidates to take the movement seriously.14
That year Republicans had to defend 17 out of 38 U.S. Senate seats. When the election was over, there were 41 Republicans in the Senate. In the understated words of the Congressional Quarterly: “The Senate that begins work in 1979, influenced by the second largest freshman class in the history of popular elections, will have a slightly more conservative cast and a few more Republicans than its predecessor.”15
Roger Jepsen’s campaign was Exhibit A of the viability of the Kasten Plan. Jepsen had been the underdog in his Senate race in Iowa, considered a long shot by the Republican establishment. None of the polls ever showed him in the lead. But Jepsen won in the Democratic precincts, as CSFC had taught was possible, with a “power to the people,” shoe-leather campaign—and it worked for Jepsen because he made abortion an issue in the Catholic Democratic precincts. Jepsen defeated incumbent Senator Dick Clark, who had been the Number One Enemy of the National Right to Life Committee. “It comes right down to those leaflets they put out,” Bob Miller, Clark’s campaign manager, told the New York Times after the election.16 “Those leaflets” were about 300,000 pamphlets distributed in church parking lots throughout the state on the Sunday before the election. The tactic of “those leaflets” was an essential tool for pro-life activists for years to come.
The 1978 election also saw fifteen House of Representatives seats switch from Democratic to Republican, among them CSFC protégés Ron Paul (TX22); Dick Cheney (WY-at large); Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-9); and Newt Gingrich (GA-6), winning on his third attempt. All were future significant national leaders. By 1980 the Kasten Plan was being followed by most conservative candidates.
Weyrich’s Fourth Ingredient, a grassroots movement, was longer in coming, and never operated to his satisfaction. Despite the late start, in 1980, the Religious Right delivered three million newly registered evangelical votes for Ronald Reagan, allowing Reagan to win the highest number of electoral votes ever won by a non-incumbent (489 to Jimmy Carter’s 49). Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in 28 years, picking up 12 seats and losing none, and the GOP picked up 34 seats in the House of Representatives, leaving the Democrats with a scant 243-193 majority.
What was Weyrich’s role in the Religious Right? He was the inspiration behind its leaders. In 1978 the Free Congress Foundation had commissioned a study by V. Lance Tarrance, Jr., which found that the more often people attended church, the less likely they were to be registered to vote. This indicated that the people with the strongest moral convictions had dropped out of the political process. Who are the people who go to church more than once a week? Evangelicals and fundamentalists. When Weyrich met with Jerry Falwell, an ambitious Independent Baptist pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia, on May 18, 1979, he shared these findings. Falwell was already toying with the idea of launching an activist organization. In that meeting Paul said, “You know, Jerry, there’s a moral majority out there in the heartland . . .” and Falwell stopped him mid-sentence: “Say that again!” Paul repeated the beginning of his intended sentence and Falwell again interrupted him to exclaim: “That’s it! That’s the name of the organization!”
From its founding in 1979 until it folded in 1989, Moral Majority was not just the name of an organization but a shorthand phrase often used to mean “newlyactivated Christians involved in conservative politics.” Religious Right was another term applied to the phenomenon. During its lifetime, Moral Majority was not by any means under Weyrich’s control, though he sometimes got blamed for its mistakes. A corresponding Catholic grassroots organization did not get going until the next century.17
It is interesting that Weyrich, a Melkite Greek Catholic, was able to work with evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants, many of whom had grown up being taught that the Catholic Church was the Antichrist. Weyrich was a frequent guest on CBN and other Christian radio and television networks, and he never hid his Catholicism. Perhaps the fact that he was a Greek Catholic and not a “Roman Catholic” made it easier for him to be accepted—Melkites are in union with Rome, but such fine points of ecclesiology are hard for even Catholics to grasp. In any case, the fact that Protestant leaders were meeting with, and publicly praying with, Catholics gave permission for pro-life activists at the grassroots level to do the same. Many old prejudices were erased in the pursuit of a pro-life Congress, helping to create the functional ecumenism that is a source of pro-life strength today. The continued commitment of evangelicals and fundamentalists to life issues and their involvement in politics as candidates and as volunteers helps to ensure the continued faithfulness of the Republican Platform to the pro-life agenda.
CSFC no longer exists, but shoe-leather politics has become conventional wisdom (though more consultants talk about it than know how to do it Weyrich’s way). By 1980, Weyrich had compelled the political world to take the abortion issue seriously. The Democratic Party chose its side, and did all it could to make it easy for the pro-life Christians to move into the Republican column. As the years passed, Paul Weyrich was proven correct: Time and time again, year after year, pro-life could make the margin of difference in an election. No matter how a district polls in its general sentiment of pro-choice or prolife, if the candidate and the troops on the ground do their job right, the intensity factor in favor of pro-life will turn out a 2 or 3 percent margin in favor of the pro-life candidate. Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ-4) proves the truth of this to this very day: His district polls majority pro-choice, but Smith has been the leader of the pro-life issue in Congress for a long time. Smith was first elected in 1980 and is now serving his 21st term, thanks to his assiduous application of Paul Weyrich’s Kasten Plan principles.
1. Weyrich, Paul M. “Senate Hands Catholics a Bitter Pill,” The Wanderer, August 6, 1970.
2. This is meticulously documented in Daniel K. Williams, Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016.
3. Quoted in Broder, David S., Changing of the Guard, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1980, p. 179 ff.
4. The detailed story of the need for, origins of, and history of the early Republican Study Committee has been told by its first staff director in great detail in Edwin J. Feulner, Jr., Conservatives Stalk the House: The Story of the Republican Study Committee, Ottawa IL: Green Hill Publishers, Inc., 1983. Feulner later became long-time president of The Heritage Foundation.
5. Lee Edwards, Leading the Way, NY: Crown Forum, 2013, p. 67.
6. Paul M. Weyrich, “The most important legacy of Joe Coors,” posted on Free Congress Foundation website March 24, 2003; accessed 7/27/2021 at http://www.enterstageright.com/archive/ articles/0303/0303coors.htm
7. Personal conversations with the author.
9. Donald T. Regan, For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington, S.D., Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1988, p. 77.
10. Chris Kaaltenbach, “Former first lady Nancy Reagan speaks out for abortion rights,” Baltimore Sun, September 21, 1994.
11. Quoted in “Speak for Yourself, Mrs. Ford,” Conservative Digest, October 1975.
12. “Phil Crane Splits with ‘New Right,’” Human Events, May 5, 1979.
13. Understandable, in hindsight: See Nagourney, Adam (April 9, 2005). “G.O.P. Consultant Weds His Male Partner.” The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 12, 2011. Retrieved May 6, 2005.
14. Marc Nuttle email to author, 6 September 2021.
16.https://www.nytimes.com/1978/11/13/archives/clark-defeat-in-iowa-laid-to-abortion-issue-nationalhelp.html. Accessed 1/30/2019
17. Catholic Vote.
Connie Marshner is an occasional blogger for the Human Life Review website. She recently completed a full-length biography of Paul Weyrich. This is part two of a two-part article.