Former congressman and presidential candidate Phil Crane dies at 84

Phil Crane, who served 35 years in the House and ran for president in 1980, has died at the age of 84 of lung cancer.  A former president of the American Conservative Union and founder of the Republican Study Committee, Crane was a tireless promoter of conservative causes going back to the 1960s, when he worked on Barry Goldwater's campaign.

New York Times:

Using the history he had taught at Indiana and Bradley Universities, Mr. Crane persuaded House colleagues of the importance of establishing conservative institutions comparable to those liberals used. The first was the Republican Study Committee, which he founded in 1973 with fewer than a dozen members. But it grew to dominate House G.O.P. ranks. By 2011 it had more than 175 members, about three-fourths of all House Republicans.

Mr. Crane became chairman of the American Conservative Union, an existing umbrella group, in 1977. He led the organization’s opposition to the Panama Canal treaties, put forward by the Carter administration that year. He spoke against them across the nation and wrote a book titled “Surrender in Panama.”

But his most innovative step was to put on the first political infomercial, a half-hour program shown 209 times around the country. Mr. Crane presided, calling the canal “the American Canal at the Isthmus of Panama,” which he insisted was “vital to our economy, our national defense and our spirit.” He introduced other speakers and urged viewers to write their senators and send money to the American Conservative Union. The organization turned a profit and sharply increased its membership after the broadcasts.

The treaties were approved by the Senate in March 1978, but Mr. Crane drew on the recognition he had received to run for president. With good looks that some compared to John F. Kennedy, he promised to make the conservative case energetically, citing the age difference between him and Reagan (47 years old to 67).

Although he had campaigned for Reagan in 1976, he said he was not sure Reagan would run again because of his age. Announcing in August 1978, he said he had to start so early because he was relatively unknown.

But his campaign was disorganized and hindered by accusations that he was dividing conservative voters. In fact, he drew few of them, getting only 7 percent of the vote in the Iowa primary and 1 percent in New Hampshire in 1980. Mr. Crane dropped out and endorsed Reagan in April 1980.

Crane represented my congressional district just as I was becoming politically aware in the 1970s and lived in my hometown.  He impressed me as a very serious, intelligent man who knew the issues backwards and forwards.  You might say he was my generation's Paul Ryan – a little wonkish, and not a very inspiring speaker, but a genuine conservative intellectual.  He served for years as the ranking minority member of  the House Ways and Means Committee, but alcoholism and declining influence in the GOP caucus denied him the chairmanship when Republicans took control in 1994. 

His run for president in 1980 came about because when he declared in 1978, no one was sure Reagan was going to run.  He figured – correctly – that he had to get a head start on the field because of his low name recognition.  His candidacy was doomed the moment Reagan announced, but he soldiered on until April of 1980, when he withdrew and endorsed Reagan.

That group of GOP candidates who ran in 1980 may have been the best collection of Republican talent ever to take part in a campaign.  You had two genuine public intellectuals in Crane and John Anderson, who eventually ran as an independent that year.  You had two heavyweight senators in future Majority Leader Bob Dole and Minority Leader Howard Baker, who went on to serve as Reagan's chief of staff in his second term.  You had one of the great governors of his time, John Connally of Texas, and a man of many accomplishments, George H.W. Bush.  That's what you might call a deep bench.

Phil Crane had an outsized influence on the growth of conservatism in America and was a pioneer in developing the institutions that led to the conservative revolution.  His impact on the intellecual growth of the right is still being felt today.

 

Phil Crane, who served 35 years in the House and ran for president in 1980, has died at the age of 84 of lung cancer.  A former president of the American Conservative Union and founder of the Republican Study Committee, Crane was a tireless promoter of conservative causes going back to the 1960s, when he worked on Barry Goldwater's campaign.

New York Times:

Using the history he had taught at Indiana and Bradley Universities, Mr. Crane persuaded House colleagues of the importance of establishing conservative institutions comparable to those liberals used. The first was the Republican Study Committee, which he founded in 1973 with fewer than a dozen members. But it grew to dominate House G.O.P. ranks. By 2011 it had more than 175 members, about three-fourths of all House Republicans.

Mr. Crane became chairman of the American Conservative Union, an existing umbrella group, in 1977. He led the organization’s opposition to the Panama Canal treaties, put forward by the Carter administration that year. He spoke against them across the nation and wrote a book titled “Surrender in Panama.”

But his most innovative step was to put on the first political infomercial, a half-hour program shown 209 times around the country. Mr. Crane presided, calling the canal “the American Canal at the Isthmus of Panama,” which he insisted was “vital to our economy, our national defense and our spirit.” He introduced other speakers and urged viewers to write their senators and send money to the American Conservative Union. The organization turned a profit and sharply increased its membership after the broadcasts.

The treaties were approved by the Senate in March 1978, but Mr. Crane drew on the recognition he had received to run for president. With good looks that some compared to John F. Kennedy, he promised to make the conservative case energetically, citing the age difference between him and Reagan (47 years old to 67).

Although he had campaigned for Reagan in 1976, he said he was not sure Reagan would run again because of his age. Announcing in August 1978, he said he had to start so early because he was relatively unknown.

But his campaign was disorganized and hindered by accusations that he was dividing conservative voters. In fact, he drew few of them, getting only 7 percent of the vote in the Iowa primary and 1 percent in New Hampshire in 1980. Mr. Crane dropped out and endorsed Reagan in April 1980.

Crane represented my congressional district just as I was becoming politically aware in the 1970s and lived in my hometown.  He impressed me as a very serious, intelligent man who knew the issues backwards and forwards.  You might say he was my generation's Paul Ryan – a little wonkish, and not a very inspiring speaker, but a genuine conservative intellectual.  He served for years as the ranking minority member of  the House Ways and Means Committee, but alcoholism and declining influence in the GOP caucus denied him the chairmanship when Republicans took control in 1994. 

His run for president in 1980 came about because when he declared in 1978, no one was sure Reagan was going to run.  He figured – correctly – that he had to get a head start on the field because of his low name recognition.  His candidacy was doomed the moment Reagan announced, but he soldiered on until April of 1980, when he withdrew and endorsed Reagan.

That group of GOP candidates who ran in 1980 may have been the best collection of Republican talent ever to take part in a campaign.  You had two genuine public intellectuals in Crane and John Anderson, who eventually ran as an independent that year.  You had two heavyweight senators in future Majority Leader Bob Dole and Minority Leader Howard Baker, who went on to serve as Reagan's chief of staff in his second term.  You had one of the great governors of his time, John Connally of Texas, and a man of many accomplishments, George H.W. Bush.  That's what you might call a deep bench.

Phil Crane had an outsized influence on the growth of conservatism in America and was a pioneer in developing the institutions that led to the conservative revolution.  His impact on the intellecual growth of the right is still being felt today.