Politics & Policy

Fortunate Friendships

An excerpt from The Man in the Middle

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.” — C. S. Lewis

In Washington, D.C., relationships matter. During my time in the White House, I learned there are many levels of such relationships, and I came to see there could exist a mutually beneficial professional bonhomie for advancing President Bush’s agenda that was also rooted in the noble principles that fuel healthy friendship. These kinds of friendships are easily misunderstood. That’s because so many of them are formed and solidified through high-pressure, high-stress political situations. Those natural highs and lows of American politics burnish relationships.

During all my years in Washington, I have been the beneficiary of some fortune friendships — people whom I came to know, love, and trust, and who have become among the most important friends of my life. Some of these men and women were colleagues in the Senate, on various campaigns, in the White House, or in other perches in the administration. Still others were friends outside politics or public policy all together.

Two towering intellectual friendships of my life were formed long before I came to the White House. These men actually guided me in ways more important than I ever would have thought possible in the days when our friendships were new. I met Russell Kirk, one of the founding fathers of the American conservative movement in the years after World War II and the author of the magisterial The Conservative Mind, when I was a junior in high school in 1981. I met William F. Buckley Jr. during my early years working in the U.S. Senate, and our friendship solidified almost immediately. His books God and Man at Yale and Up from Liberalism impacted my life powerfully.

With Russell, a fellow Midwesterner, I developed a friendship by letters, all of his typed personally and neatly and with nary an error, flowing as if each one was written for publication, so lucid and eloquent were they, word upon word. We exchanged letters on and off through the rest of his life, well into the 1990s, and we saw each other whenever he came to Washington, which was at least two times a year on average for lectures and speeches. The Conservative Mind had the greatest influence on me of any single book or poem I have ever read, and I eventually came to read all of his books and monographs. His remarkable wife, Annette, whom he always referred to as “the beauteous,” became an equally cherished friend. After Russell’s death, she carried on his legacy by founding the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in Michigan with the help of the indispensable Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Del., where Russell and Annette’s son-in-law Jeffrey Nelson, also a friend, serves as a senior vice president.

Russell changed my life by seeding my intellectual curiosity. I came to see that his external life was much smaller than his internal world, which was large, deep, and wide. He taught me to be wary of ideologues because they got in the way of a good life. He famously said that “ideology is anathema.” Conservatism, I came to see, because of the influence of Russell, was not an ideology but instead a way of life. There is no official or unofficial handbook for what constitutes conservatism, and in fact the conservative life is various.

Through all our letters, through our many conversations, through reading his prodigious oeuvre — both fiction and nonfiction (his ghost stories are remarkable) — I came to see I was not exclusively a social conservative, an economic conservative, or a defense/foreign-policy/national-security conservative. I was a conservative without prefix or suffix — one who believed, with Russell, that “the twentieth-century conservative is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of spirit and character — with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest.”

When I read those words for the first time in The Conservative Mind, I knew I had found a soul mate, even if we did not agree on all things. In fact, I once raised this point with Russell, and he was pleased that in fact we did not agree in all matters. He told me disagreement is a key part of conservatism — that there is no single document or manifesto that guides the conservative but that there are precepts rooted in transcendence, custom, order, and tradition that guide the thinking and faith of those who find wisdom in prescription.

When Buckley once visited Russell in Kirk’s small ancestral Michigan village of Mecosta — Russell liked to refer to that part of Michigan as “the stump country” — and asked him what he did for intellectual companionship there, Russell pointed at the wall of books constituting his library. That is not an inapt description of how Russell’s friendship impacted my own public service in the Senate and the White House but especially the latter. Russell showed me it was important to live your ideas, that faith and action go together and not one without the other. He was a commanding public intellectual, deeply respected by men and women of the Left as well as the Right. I remember having lunch with the librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, in the Senate dining room and asking him who had not only most profoundly shaped his intellectual life but effectively challenged it. He told me it was Russell Kirk; he said Russell was one of the most astute thinkers he had ever known. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. also had great respect for Russell, and both men shared a mutually high regard for Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, among many other things. During my years in the White House, Schlesinger invited me to his Sutton Place apartment and office in New York City. We spoke of Tocqueville, Emerson, FDR, and JFK. But when I told him of my friendship with Dr. Kirk, that was all Schlesinger wanted to talk about for the next half hour.

I remember spending a winter weekend with the Kirks in Mecosta. I drove to their home, which was about five hours from Fort Wayne. When I arrived, I thought it was one of the bleakest days of the year: The skies were grey; the fields and forests were cropless and leafless; and the bitter wind seemed endless. When I came into their village, I did not know precisely where their home was. Annette had said, “Just ask anyone when you arrive,” as it was a small village. So I stopped at the first place I found, a kind of combination of a gas station with a gift shop. “Oh, the Kirks. Yes, they live in that haunted house down there,” a woman told me, pointing just down the street. I chuckled, but she gave me a lame grin as if to say, “Just wait. You’ll see what I mean.” The Gothic house was indeed a landmark in Mecosta. The original Kirk homestead burned to the ground many years before on Good Friday, but Russell and Annette built a beautiful Italianate home in its place. It was not grandiose or luxurious; but it had a remarkable personality, perfectly capturing its patriarch.

The highlight of my time with the Kirks was when Russell and I took a short walk down a snowy old lane to the former cigar factory that became his library. Thousands of volumes animated the place, but there were two focal points in the room: the desk where Russell did his writing, usually in the dead of night while his family slept, and a large, roaring, crackling fire in the fireplace that in those winter months was rarely extinguished. When we walked in, I felt a sense of serenity and warmth and even peace. So many of the books special in my life were written in that library.

The last time I saw Russell was on his final visit to Washington. We had tea on the rooftop of the old Hotel Washington where he stayed when he was in the city. It was a glorious afternoon, and the terrace where we sat overlooked the White House and the Department of the Treasury. I made a comment about the statue of Alexander Hamilton that stands just behind the Treasury, near the East Gate of the White House. Russell began to expound on the key chapters of Hamilton’s life and the centrality of his role in the Federalist Papers, and was discussing the importance of Hamilton to America’s founding as if he, Russell, were literally sitting having tea in the 18th century. He was not lecturing or moralizing but rather discussing and evoking in the most remarkable fashion, from his great mind, one of the central characters of American history. Russell’s comments had a learnedness and vastness of knowledge that astounded me, and yet there was not a scintilla of pedantry in his approach. When I was with him, I always felt a sense of calm that was irretrievable, never fictive. He was a gentle man. He died, surrounded by his wife and four daughters, on April 29, 1994.

Russell’s friendship, animated by the first postulates of the good life, guided me in practical ways time and again. His was a worldview animated by a realm of noble ideas, mysterious splendor, and the ways God affronted confusion, doubt, and fear. Russell taught me to embrace justice, mystery, and an orderly and stable universe that was God-ordained and true. He showed that literature and civilization matter to the man or woman who chooses public life and that being guided by those central, exciting ideas — truth, beauty, justice, goodness — was a wonderful way to navigate a good and meaningful life. In all of my letters, lunches, dinners, and time with him, he never once raised a political idea or discussion. With Russell there was never a time for punditry or discussion of current events. If I made a comment about something in the news, he might express an opinion, but by and large we discussed history, biography, poetry, philosophy, or theology, or shared a bit of humor. Russell Kirk’s impact on me was indelible. So was Bill Buckley’s.

In the 1990s I attended a noontime lecture at the Heritage Foundation, which was just three blocks from the Russell Senate Office Building, my office for nearly a decade. (I began going to the Heritage Foundation in the summer of 1985 when I was an intern for Dan Quayle in the Senate. Heritage hosted lectures and symposia that attracted young conservatives from the Hill and all around Washington. A bevy of authors, thinkers, and policymakers always made for a fortifying hour or so.) After the lecture I was particularly intrigued by an idea raised there. I wrote a letter about it to my friend, the Dartmouth professor and senior editor of National Review Jeffrey Hart, to get his perspective. Jeff shared my letter with Bill. I didn’t know Jeff shared the letter, and I had never met Buckley. Shortly thereafter, in my postbox in the Senate, I found a letter from Buckley. He told me Jeff shared my letter with him, that he agreed with me on that particular point, and that he would like to discuss it further. He invited me to have dinner with him and members of the National Review editorial board (the senior staff at NR) at Buckley’s pied-à-terre in New York City.

As a young Senate deputy press secretary who read virtually everything Bill wrote, watched innumerable Firing Line episodes from a young age, and enjoyed Bill’s Blackford Oakes fiction series, I was astounded that he was inviting me to dinner at his home based on a letter I sent not to him but to a colleague of his. I accepted the invitation; took the train to New York City two weeks later; and spent one of the most enjoyable evenings of my life with Bill, his wife, Pat, and a small coterie of NR editors and other guests at their home at 73rd Street and Park Avenue. I remember walking into their apartment: King Charles Cavalier dogs barking and nipping at my feet; a tuxedoed young butler offering me a drink from a silver tray; Pat Buckley in a flowing white dress, perfumed aplenty; a harpsichord in the entry hall Bill was plucking; brightly colored paintings on every wall, many of them abstracts; and thence into a reddish-orange library for drinks and conversation before dinner.

This was the first real salon I ever joined, and the conversation ranged from that day’s New York Times editorials to many topics far beyond. Bill had just returned from a sailing trip and was discussing the beauty of Newfoundland with his best friend, Van Galbraith, who would later become a friend of mine through Bill’s introduction. Dinner followed, eight of us at a large round table in a small, mirror-filled drawing or ballroom, the dogs present. The range and scope of that evening flew by as if in a dream. I suppose I never felt more like an arriviste as I did that night.

I remember the most humbling part of the evening. During dinner Bill went around the table, raised a point or two, and then asked the guests what they thought, encouraging and prompting excellent conversation and humor. I soon realized he was being fairly systematic and eventually would come to me. I rarely feel intimidated, but I was surrounded by people whose work, both journalism and fiction, I read for years. and I wasn’t quite sure I was actually supposed to be there. When Bill got to me, he put me completely at ease. He shared with the group the narrative of my letter that seeded our friendship, and he made me feel welcome in such a way that I intuited, for the first time, his legendary friendship, warmth, and grace. This was a providential gift, I believed in that moment, and the evening was among the most satisfying of my life. After dinner and now in another beautiful room, we had coffee and aperitifs (Bill and two others had a cigar). The longtime publisher of NR, Bill Rusher, was there, and at one point cited from memory a gorgeous poem by A. E. Housman. Near 10:00 p.m. we all said our goodbyes. As we were doing so, Bill sat at the harpsichord, plucking a few more keys, and then saw me and his group of guests to the door. “See you again, my friend,” he said to me and gently latched the large front door after we departed. The group quickly dispersed in a hail of cabs, but I chose to walk back to my hotel to try to internalize what had just happened. I simply never had an evening like that before and was certain I never would again.

Two weeks later, I found another letter in my Senate postbox, again from Bill. When I was in New York for dinner, he asked me in passing if I had ever been on a sailboat. I told him I was born and raised in northeastern Indiana; that while we had lots of lakes, people mostly had speed boats, fishing boats, pontoons, or small sailboats; and that I had never stepped foot on a sailboat. I knew, of course, of his fame as a sailor but did not think again of our conversation. One of my interns in the Senate was a direct descendant of the father of American football, Walter Camp. He had rowed crew at Yale, Bill’s alma mater. My intern told me that “life on the water” was a different kind of life. I never forgot that wonderful phrase but had no idea what he was talking about. Bill asked if I would like to rectify never having been on a sailboat and come to his home in Stamford, Conn., for an overnight sail across the Long Island Sound, on a Friday evening in the early fall. Again I was surprised by the invitation and the generosity of it but felt sheepish: I envisioned it would be a party of ten or so people who all sailed, and then there would be me, the landlubber. I knew it was an invitation I could not turn down, so I steeled myself for awkwardness, happily accepted, and set a date with Bill’s indefatigable secretary, Frances Bronson.

I boarded the Amtrak on an early Friday afternoon at Washington’s Union Station, one of the most beautiful stations on the East Coast. I had only ridden the train two other times in my life and never as far north as Stamford, which is just above New York City and New Rochelle in the larger New York metropolitan area. Frances told me Bill would likely collect me from the Stamford station; and indeed, when I arrived in a light drizzle, Bill was there to meet me in the smallest Ford station wagon I have ever seen. Though fall, the weather was unseasonably warm. I noticed a Catholic Missal was between the gear shaft and the passenger seat, along with plenty of other reading material: a copy of National Review that was about ten years old, a dog-eared copy of The Human Life Review, a copy of Commentary magazine, and a copy of a Patrick O’Brien novel. Bill was wearing khaki pants, a cashmere sweater with the words National Review stitched into the upper left side, Sperry topsiders, and an old Greek-style light-blue sailing cap. His casual informality made him seem like a prep-school senior and not a man in his 70s. He extended his hands in a friendship clasp, and we then sped toward Bill and Pat’s home on Wallack’s Point (the house was salmon-colored) with pot upon pot of blooming flowers of the richest color and variety.

When we arrived, despite the rain, many of the home’s windows were open, as was the front door, allowing the sea breezes to pour into the house. The view of Long Island Sound fronting the manse, just down the vast front lawn, was beautiful, as was a pool with statuary and beautiful bushes and willow trees. The rain slowed, the clouds were dissipating, and the late afternoon sun was slowly emerging. A beautiful evening was breaking forth, a great night for a sail. I kept waiting for the other sailing guests to arrive, but this turned out to be a phantom concern.

Danny Merritt, who sailed with Bill for many years, dating from his own boyhood friendship with Bill’s son Christopher, would sail with us that evening, as would Danny’s twelve-year-old son. I asked Bill if it was just the four of us. Yes, just four; it was a hard-and-fast rule with Bill. Four was the perfect number for his 28-foot sailboat called “Patito,” he said, and five would be a crowd. The car was quickly loaded with all kinds of gear and provisions (I kept thinking: All this for an overnight sail?), and we then went to the Stamford docks, loaded the boat, and proceeded to have one of the most autumnal glorious sails. The wind was just right, and the sails were beautiful against the emerging sunset.

The clouds folded back; the twinkling stars emerged as if on cue; the Manhattan skyline was clearly visible and shining out of the near darkness. The mast, the sails, the retreating clouds, the dark water: There was an intensity bordering on grandeur that was an epiphany and sublime. We sailed across into Oyster Bay (“Fitzgerald and Roosevelt territory,” I remember Bill saying), with Bach’s music playing during most of our trip across the sound. The whole evening seemed serendipitous. A sumptuous dinner followed, which was prepared earlier by Bill’s chef Julian and reheated by Danny. As dinner commenced, Bach slowly gave way to jazz by the pianist Dick Wellstood, one of Bill’s favorite musicians. The evening was now getting chilly, and fresh air was pouring into the boat as we slept that night, with only the sound of waves lapping against the boat during the night. Bliss.

A wonderful breakfast followed, with Bill rising early and the sound of a New York City radio newscaster giving the headlines and the weather. We returned to Stamford by mid-morning; lunched with the Buckleys and other weekend house guests, among them a prominent journalist, a bridge-playing friend of Pat’s who grew up in Washington before World War II, when it was still a sleepy southern city, and Bill’s priest, Father Kevin. I spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing. We watched a movie that evening in a leopard-rugged music room that doubled as a small theater, and I departed Sunday morning.

As I settled into my Amtrak seat, I realized that over the previous 24 hours I had entered a world unto itself and very much unlike my own, a world I had not been part of two days before. It was a unique entrée, animated by books, music, ideas, humor, good food, and joie de vivre, undergirded by Bill’s unfailing generosity. Our friendship was really born that weekend and during the short sail. It also dawned on me that during my entire time with Bill he never once raised a political issue. Like my time with Russell, unless I referred to politics or some current public-policy issue, the political scene never arose. We shared love for music (classical, jazz, the American songbook), ideas in literature, classic and contemporary movies (Bill referred to them as “flicks”), new and old novels, and the big and various personalities he had known in a remarkable lifetime including movie stars, politicians, writers, and journalists. These were the people and ideas stimulating our friendship, and it had the net effect of widening my world far beyond the Beltway and the life of pure politics. We would see each other twice a year or so in the course of the next twelve years, sailing together at least once a summer and often on a long summer sailing cruise as far north as the Bay of Fundy in Canada, the Saint John River, much of Nova Scotia, and most of the East Coast, from Blue Hill, Maine, into Penabscot Bay, to visits on Nantucket, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Newport. During those summer sails, I felt a sense of relaxation and insouciance that I have rarely enjoyed since then, or ever.

My friendships with Bill Buckley and Russell Kirk changed my life.

When President Bush came to office in 2001, I got Karl Rove’s permission to honor a major conservative annually at the White House. The goal was not only to honor the annual winner’s achievement but also to evoke their role in shaping and molding the cultural and political contours of America through the conservative movement. In the first year, we honored Whittaker Chambers, the masterful author of Witness; the second year, we honored Russell; the third year, we honored Bill; the fourth year, we honored Ronald Reagan; and the fifth year, we honored Milton Friedman. We had major speakers at each event — President Bush, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, Robert Novak, Chuck Colson, Annette Kirk, Michael Reagan, and George Shultz. Both Bill and Milton Friedman were able to speak during the sessions that celebrated their lives, which made them special occasions for the 250 guests in attendance.

The Buckley event was particularly memorable because it was scheduled to coincide with National Review’s 50th anniversary. The president’s remarks were wonderfully done, laced with good humor and wit. He and Bill actually had a lot in common. Both went to Yale, where they were members of Skull and Bones; Bill’s son Christopher worked for the president’s father as a speechwriter; both had a common family oil tie to Texas, the president through his dad and Bill through his; and both were well-known families in the East Coast Republican and conservative establishment. There were also important differences too. Bill was a libertarian economically, and the president was not; the president thought the war in Iraq was a necessity, and Bill was opposed even though National Review was a strong and consistent supporter of the war.

The world of conservative ideas formed the bridge into most of my closest professional friendships during those years in the Bush White House, and the world of the conservative and libertarian think tanks was a concentrated world indeed. In the think-tank world, no friendships were more valuable than the ones with Ed Feulner, Ed Meese, and Bridgett Wagner of the Heritage Foundation. Heritage became the leader of the conservative movement, and its output of empirical research and significant studies was dazzling. Feulner, Heritage’s president, is a man of vast experience and sage wisdom, an honest and transparent sounding board, and a principled thinker who knows how Washington really works. His counsel, insight, and sense of fair play helped me time and again, none more so than his willingness to pick up the phone and explain why he and Heritage disagreed with the administration on any number of things. I have already discussed the invaluable input of Meese, who is probably the most beloved and respected single figure in American conservatism now, a true gray eminence, and among the last living and active links to the Reagan governorship and presidency. He is wisdom and virtue personified. Bridgett Wagner is the ultimate coalitions builder inside the conservative movement and works with a perspicacity and efficiency that was astonishingly helpful.

George W. Bush will always be my favorite president. His personal kindness and generosity of spirit are unparalleled in my life, and I owe him so much professionally. As a conservative, I most admire two statesmen, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The power of their ideas, the strength of their character, and the wisdom of their governance were remarkable, and I consider one of the great honors of my life to have lived in the same time as these luminaries. Their governing conservatism was of the highest caliber.

When I was working in the White House, I received a call one day from Ed Feulner. We worked closely together, and during one of our occasional breakfast meetings, he asked me whom, other than Reagan, I admired most in political office. I told him Margaret Thatcher. I told Ed that her debating style was singular and that as a young man I learned from her ability to persuade through evidence-based reasoning instead of the use of cheap emotion, so often the fuel of contemporary political debate. Ed agreed, and in his call to me he asked if I would like to join him and a group from Heritage for a dinner with Lady Thatcher, who was coming to the states the following week. I readily accepted and anticipated the pending dinner with great relish. But three days before the dinner, I became violently ill. I was to have been in New York with President Bush the day before the planned Thatcher dinner in Washington, but I had to cancel the trip to New York, unable to leave my sickbed. Not only did I miss a key event with President and Mrs. Bush, but now, I thought, I would miss the dinner with Mrs. Thatcher, an event that surely would be one of the great disappointments of my life. Yet three hours before the dinner and for the first time in three days, my fever lifted, and my stomach ceased its endless summersaults all at once. Jenny pleaded with me to remain in bed, but I showered, shaved, dressed, and drove to the dinner as if I had never been ill.

The evening was a triumph because Lady Thatcher was in prize form despite a history of small strokes. She became the patroness of the Heritage Foundation, and her remarks that evening, though brief, were spot-on and florid in the great Thatcher tradition. It was actually exciting to listen to her defend a certain body of ideas, echoing Walter Bagehot’s view that “the essence of Toryism is enjoyment.” I spoke with her after the dinner, telling her that, with Reagan, she inspired me to enter political life. “Ronnie inspired all of us. He is a great man. Great,” she said, using that word twice. The next time I saw Thatcher was at Reagan’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral. There sat the former British prime minister, along with former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, former Canadian prime minster Brian Mulroney, and former president George H. W. Bush. The Bush eulogy was inspired, deeply moving, and personal — a truly humility-laden appreciation. The Thatcher eulogy, which was taped earlier, was equally personal, equally well done but framed by the same dynamism and idea-centric rhetoric that made her, with Churchill, one of the two great prime ministers of the contemporary era. Margaret Thatcher is unique, and we shall not see her type again at 10 Downing Street — intellectually incandescent, and a leader, with Reagan, of a conservative fermentation in the West, rooted in the confidence of liberty. They deserve to be remembered as the two world leaders of the second half of the 20th century who understood, at the deepest level, the spiritual dimensions of Communism and socialism. Their righteous defense of immutable principles gave the so-called “special relationship” between America and England a burst of energy but also of elegance, grace, and continuity.

Thatcher, like Reagan, represented a world of ideas connected to action. This bridge of ideas and action was how my professional life was organized in these White House years. None more so than in the world of think tanks and public-policy groups.

Herb London and Ken Weinstein of the Hudson Institute were equally gracious at every turn, as were Chris DeMuth, Mike Novak, and Walter Berns at the American Enterprise Institute. Larry Mone and Lindsay Craig at the Manhattan Institute were an oasis in New York City for the best conservative ideas. On the West Coast, John Raisian and the team at the Hoover Institution were always on the White House radar scope, and Hoover economist Ed Lazear ended up with a key economics post in the White House.

The State Policy Network — a coalition of loosely affiliated, state-based, center-right think tanks across the country — has become a force to be reckoned with. Friends at the SPN introduced me to a bevy of other, international free-trade, market-oriented think tanks across the globe, which helped provide yet other avenues to get our message out worldwide.

Also, I developed friendships with the leaders of organizations that reach out to bright, young, smart conservatives: Roger Ream of the Fund for American Studies, Ron Robinson of the Young America’s Foundation, Ken Cribb of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute, Tim Echols of TeenPact, and Keith and Maureen Wiebe of the American Association of Christian Schools. These great folks were not always of one accord; most were nonideological, but all of them were good about allowing the Bush administration to share its ideas and policies, and the students were always willing to tell us where they agreed or disagreed. I recognized early on the great importance of reaching the rising generation of young conservatives and always wanted to make sure there was plenty of room for give-and-take.

Through this matrix of think tanks, public-policy groups, and organizations uniquely constituted to reach out to young American conservatives and libertarians, I came to see in the first George W. Bush administration the importance of reaching another important group of conservatives. These were the most important conservative magazines and journals comprising the authors, writers, scholars, wonks, and historians who propounded a certain right-of-center worldview that battled back against the dominant, regnant liberal domination of the media.

But how to mesh with these worlds? One relationship at a time, building a level of trust and friendship over weeks, months, and years, and always respecting the bright line between my role as liaison and my White House colleagues’ media and communications roles. It was a balance and ballast we achieved incrementally. The goal was not to get important people to agree with President Bush. The goal was to open a dialogue, earn the honor of being heard, and having the president’s viewpoint thoughtfully considered.

The glue of the American conservative movement is the Madisonian view that our framers created a government of strictly enumerated and restricted powers that give most power to the states and to the American people, not Washington and its permanent, ever-expansive bureaucracy.

I came to see the conservative intellectual and journalistic world as a vibrant place, peopled by talented individuals whose own diversity of opinion, outlook, and styles destroyed the myth that there was anything like unanimity on the American Right. Yet there was a singular devotion among all conservatives to first principles and to the idea of American exceptionalism best exemplified in adherence to and respect for our nation’s founding documents, none more so than the Constitution. That idea bound all American conservatism and was the foundation of some of the most fortunate, blessed friendships of my life.

— Timothy S. Goeglein is a vice president for external relations at Focus on the Family and author of the new book The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era, from which this article is adapted.


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