Jack Kemp, R.I.P.

Was there ever a man of such high spirits as Jack Kemp? Reagan was sunny; Kemp was a perpetual solar flare. He had an athlete’s energy and an optimist’s expectation that all would come out well. He also felt the respect for learning that only those who come to it late and under their own steam have. Ideas, he believed, really could save the world. Some of his ideas were half-baked — he put far too much credit in his friend Jude Wanniski — and his timing was bad. He offered himself in 1988 as Reagan’s heir, but he was crushed between George H. W. Bush, who as veep was the heir of record, and Pat Robertson, the GOP’s Jesse Jackson, the cleric who wanted the White House because of who he was, not because of anything he had done. In Right Time, Right Place I tell the story of how John O’Sullivan and I went to D.C. to urge Jack to challenge President Bush for the nomination in 1992, but he had just been kicked in the head three years earlier, and had no desire to risk another drubbing. Bob Dole’s picking Kemp as his runningmate in 1996 shocked everyone; his career had seemed over. He had a bad debate with Al Gore (Wanniski gave him terrible advice beforehand, which he followed). He was a great friend of National Review, and there was nothing more exhilirating than Jack at full speed: a combination of riding a great horse, and a roller coaster. RIP.

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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