William Rusher was the publisher of National Review, not quite from day one, but almost — brought in to replace the terminally irascible Willi Schlamm. Rusher stayed at his post from the magazine’s infancy to its adulthood 30 years later.
Rusher was a public presence — author, columnist, and debater — but his most lasting mark was made in the trenches of politics. In 1961 he and two friends — longtime GOP operative F. Clifton White and freshman congressman John Ashbrook — launched the movement to give Barry Goldwater the Republican nomination in 1964. Their success (despite Goldwater’s loss to LBJ) mortally wounded the Republican party’s liberal Eastern Establishment and changed the face of American politics.
Rusher himself doubted whether the change had been drastic enough. In 1975, he published The Making of the New Majority Party — a call for a populist third party to be led by Ronald Reagan. Reagan decided to stay with the GOP, losing in 1976 but running the table in 1980. Rusher’s idealism was always alloyed with reality, and he abandoned his third-party projects to celebrate and defend the Reagan presidency.
His personal style inclined to the severe — his ties tightly cinched, his suits trim. But behind the façade lay a Marcellus shale of courtesy and warmth — a man ever ready to share his time and his advice. He had his favorite restaurants and had trained their maîtres d’ well. He knew his port vintages and that Château d’Yquem should not be served with chocolate (of course). He had crossed the globe in his travels and brought back a cargo of anecdotes; he was pleased to have ticked off Easter Island, though perhaps his favorite spot, culturally and politically, was embattled anti-Communist China on Taiwan. He knew, and would recite, favorite poems by Housman, Swinburne, Santayana.
Among Rusher’s stand-bys were the death-bed lines of the emperor Hadrian. In them, Hadrian asks what will now become of his soul? Inclined to Stoicism, Rusher sympathized with the humorous skepticism of the question. As an adult convert to traditionalist Anglicanism, he had a Christian answer. The image of his soul is well-lodged in the memories of his many friends and admirers. Dead at 87. R.I.P.