Weyrich, Who Helped Institutionalize Conservative Right, Dies at 66

Posted December 18, 2008 at 10:30am

As word spread Thursday of the death of longtime conservative activist Paul Weyrich, fellow Republicans and right-leaning colleagues remembered the 66-year-old as an uncompromising voice who helped institutionalize their causes.

He co-founded the Heritage Foundation, and he was a staunch opponent of abortion rights and gay marriage who championed social conservatism.

“Rather than any single issue, Paul should be remembered most for his institution building,” said Phil Truluck, Heritage’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Truluck first met Weyrich when both were working as Senate aides in the early 1970s. Weyrich was working for Colorado Republican Sen. Gordon Allott, while Truluck was working for Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).

At the time, Truluck said, Weyrich “was very concerned about the conservative movement, where it was going.”

Weyrich helped create what is now known as the Senate Steering Committee and also played a role in the creation of the House Republican Study Committee, both incubators for GOP policies.

“Other people could compromise, other people could make the deals, but he always tried to establish what he believed to be the true philosophical position,” Truluck said. “He tried to establish the right wall of an issue.”

In 1973, a nadir of the GOP’s influence, Weyrich, along with Ed Feulner, co-founded the Heritage Foundation, now one of the country’s biggest conservative think tanks. It started off with a handful of employees and a budget just barely in the six figures. Today, the group has a $70 million annual budget and 250 employees.

Weyrich left the group after about year — Feulner remains its president — to found a group now called the Free Congress Foundation, where he stayed until his death.

The FCF explains its mission on its Web site like this: “Most think tanks talk about tax rates or the environment or welfare policy and occasionally we do also. But our main focus is on the Culture War.

“Will America return to the culture that made it great, our traditional, Judeo-Christian, Western culture? Or will we continue the long slide into the cultural and moral decay of political correctness? If we do, America, once the greatest nation on earth, will become no less than a third world country.”

Truluck said he and his colleagues were surprised to learn of Weyrich’s death, but noted that he had been in poor health for the past several years. He got around in a wheelchair in recent years after having both legs amputated.