Jacob Heilbrunn: Review of David B. Frisk's "If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement"

Roundup: Books

Jacob Heilbrunn, a regular contributor to the Book Review, is a senior editor at The National Interest.

On Oct. 8, 1961, a small group of conservative activists, businessmen and lawyers met in a seedy motel on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The meeting was assembled by three men — F. Clifton White, John Ashbrook and William A. Rusher — to develop a plan to draft the Arizona senator and stalwart conservative Barry Goldwater for the Republican nomination in 1964. As the group strategized, Frank Whetstone, a newspaper publisher from Montana, stood up and said while he trusted White (a resolute insurgent who masterminded Goldwater’s nomination), he wondered “where the rest of you s.o.b.’s will be when we get down to that final ballot.” It was a valid question. A previous attempt to get Goldwater the nomination, in 1960, had been a flop. This time the campaign would be serious. The men in the room, David B. Frisk reports in “If Not Us, Who?,” “pledged to stick with their comrades, whatever pressures might be brought.”

It was a formative moment in the emergence of the modern Republican Party. These “comrades” formed a vanguard intent on transforming the party into an ideological instrument, a project that Rusher, the longtime publisher of National Review, tackled with entrepreneurial cunning and indefatigable energy. With the exception of “The Making of the American Conservative Mind,” a penetrating study by the former National Review contributor and editor Jeffrey Hart, who views his legacy with misgivings, Rusher’s career has received little scrutiny. Frisk’s deeply researched and well-written biography fills the gap....

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