(CNSNews.com) – Following his death on April 20 at age 72, fellow conservatives praised Howard Phillips as a driving force in their movement and a man who stood consistently and courageously on principle.
Calling Mr. Phillips “one of the first conservative lions,” Peter Thomas, who is now chairman of The Conservative Caucus that Phillips founded in 1974, joined the chorus.
“Howard was, more than anyone I’ve ever met, a man of principle,” Thomas said. “He was, in so many ways, the compass for the conservative movement, a man who could always be trusted to stand by his beliefs and his conservative principles.”
Sam Phillips, youngest son of Mr. Phillips--or ‘Howie’ as friends called him--said his father’s “commitment to principle and his unwillingness to compromise” it are hallmarks of his life and legacy.
The younger Phillips added that his father’s loyalty to his country and his friends was also part of Howard Phillips’ character.
“Dad greatly loved this country,” Sam Phillips told CNSNews.com. “And a description of my dad is he was incredibly loyal to his friends.”
“That left a big impression on me--the importance of being loyal to people,” said Sam Phillips.
Fellow conservative activist Morton Blackwell, founder and president of the Leadership Institute, called Howard Phillips “a major leader in the rapid growth of the conservative movement in the 1970s.”
“Although Howie and I took different paths in our respective fights for conservative principles, he and I remained very good friends,” Blackwell said. “He had an encyclopedic knowledge of politics and public policy issues, and he poured his all into every effort he undertook.”
“A conservative movement founder has passed,” Blackwell said.
Mr. Phillips, according to friends and colleagues, was steadfast in his commitment to limited government, traditional family values, and opposition to abortion.
In 1990, when Republican President George H.W. Bush nominated David Souter to the Supreme Court, Mr. Phillips testified against Souter in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Souter’s tenure on the boards of trustees for two New Hampshire hospitals that provided abortion on demand, Phillips said, made him unfit for the highest court in the land.
“One must conclude that either Mr. Souter accepts the view that the life of the unborn child is of less value than the convenience and profit of those who collaborate in the killing of that child, or that, despite his recognition of the fact that each unborn child is human, a handiwork of God's creation, he lacked the moral courage or discernment to help prevent the destruction of so many innocent human lives when he had the authority--indeed the responsibility--to do so,” Mr. Phillips testified.
“Either way, in such circumstances, unless there are mitigating factors or extenuating considerations which have not yet been brought to public attention, it is difficult to regard Mr. Souter as one suitable for participation in judicial decisions at the highest level of our nation,” Phillips said.
Mr. Phillips, who campaigned for Ronald Reagan, also opposed Reagan's first Supreme Court pick, saying Sandra Day O’Connor’s record in the Arizona state senate and as a judge proved she favored abortion.
In the Supreme Court’s 1992 Casey v. Planned Parenthood decision, both O’Connor and Souter voted to affirm the 1973 Roe v. Wade declaring abortion--the deliberate killing of an unborn child--a constitutional right.
Journalist and historian M. Stanton Evans, one of the founders of the Conservative Movement, described Phillips as “very principled.”
“He was absolutely fearless in the defense of his beliefs,” Evans told CNSNews.com.
Richard Viguerie who, along with Phillips, Blackwell, Paul Weyrich, Ed Feulner, and others helped shape the "New Right" movement in the 1970s and ‘80s, recalled in an appreciation of Mr. Phillips, that CBS News anchor Dan Rather asked then-Vice President George H. W. Bush at the 1984 GOP National Convention about charges by some conservatives that he was not conservative.
Viguerie wrote: “’Mr. Vice President, Howard Phillips and Richard Viguerie say you’re not a conservative,’ Rather said. Are you a conservative?”
Bush replied, “Yes, Dan. I’m a conservative, but I’m not a nut about it.”
“Well,” Viguerie wrote, “Howard Phillips was certainly a ‘nut about the cause of liberty and limited government,’ as set forth in our country’s founding documents, especially the Constitution.”
Patrick J. Buchanan, who served as a top aide to President Richard Nixon and was President Reagan's communication director before running for president himself said that Phillips was a man of conviction.
"Howard Phillips, a friend of half a century, was a conviction politician," Buchanan told CNSNews.com. "He stood up for his beliefs, he stood by those beliefs, and he did not hesitate to go down to defeat if necessary for those beliefs. High among them was his unshakable belief in the inviolate right to life of the unborn.
"I recall with great pleasure memories of the days we worked together in the early Nixon years, and our victories and defeats," said Buchanan. "Two decades ago, in the final hours of the USSR, a small group of us under Howard's leadership traveled through Poland and the Baltic republics in one of the unforgettable trips of my life. Howard was a good man who devoted his life to fighting the good fight."
Howard Jay Phillips was born Feb. 3, 1941 in Boston and grew up in nearby Brighton, Mass. He was raised in the Jewish faith by his father, Frederick, an insurance broker, and his mother, Gertrude Goldberg Phillips, a homemaker. He later converted to Christianity.
In 1973, President Richard Nixon asked Mr. Phillips to head up the Office of Economic Opportunity. His marching orders: dismantle the agency tasked with carrying out Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty at taxpayer expense.
Nixon’s plan failed and Mr. Phillips resigned.
In his New York Times obituary, Mr. Phillips’ sister, Susan Phillips Bari, is quoted as saying her brother traveled the country to see who the benefactors of President Johnson’s benevolence were.
He concluded, Bari said, that the money was mostly supporting liberal advocacy organizations.
“Not to what the taxpayers thought they were supporting,” Bari told the Times. “That’s what radicalized him.”
A 1962 graduate of Harvard University, Mr. Phillips was at the home of another conservative icon, William F. Buckley Jr., in 1960 where the Young Americans for Freedom, or YAF, was minted.
In the mid-1960s, Mr. Phillips was chairman of the Boston Republican Committee and in 1974 he founded The Conservative Caucus, which he presided over until stepping down in 2011.
His frustration with the Republican Party led him to found the U.S. Taxpayers Party--later renamed the Constitution Party--and to lead that party's presidential ticket.
L. Brent Bozell III, founder and president of the Media Research Center (the parent organization of CNSNews.com), recalled in a remembrance how Mr. Phillips and a handful of others sparked the New Right movement of the 1970s and 80s that helped elect Ronald Reagan and advance conservatism in those decades.
“Most amazing, this merry band of brothers was just that--a band,” Bozell said. “By today’s standards, the New Right was never really a movement.”
“It was a dozen or so leaders, with a dozen or so organizations, with maybe two dozen dollars to spend,” Bozell said. “What should have been a blip became a seismic explosion.”
“They were revolutionaries, the political arm of the movement that ushered in the Reagan era,” Bozell said. “Most conservatives wouldn’t be here but for men like Howard Phillips.”
“They are his legacy,” Bozell said.
Darrell L. Castle, a member of the Constitution Party Executive Committee, said in an essay on the party’s website: “In the words of his son Doug he was the most principled and courageous statesman of his generation.
“He inspired many thousands of people with his courageous fight for liberty,” Castle said. “He was a larger than life figure whose intellect towered over most of us.”
Mr. Phillips is survived by his wife of almost 50 years, Margaret Blanchard; three sons, Douglas, Bradford and Samuel; three daughters, Elizabeth “Amanda” Lants, Alexandria, and Jennifer; and 18 grandchildren.