I got this as a freebie for renewing my subscription to National Review awhile back. (You can only have so many NR t-shirts or coffee mugs.) And it finally percolated to the top of my to-be-read pile. Written by David B. Frisk, it is a hefty tome, 438 pages of text, over 60 pages of endnotes.
And what's it about? It is a biography of William A. Rusher (1923-2011), the publisher of National Review for about thirty of those years, from 1957 until his retirement in 1988. In addition to his work at the magazine, Rusher was also a political activist, heavily involved in an effort to steer the Republican Party to a more consistently conservative direction. Although his early GOP efforts were in support of Dewey and Ike, he came around to a solid conservatism after being disillusioned with the Eisenhower presidency.
Rusher was considerably different from NR's famous editor, William F. Buckley Jr. Buckley was born rich, comfortable moving in sophisticated society, totally charming. Rusher was from a modest background, working his way into Harvard Law, very much the practical politician, obsessed with devising winning strategies. WFB was the golden retriever in the limo, Rusher the pitbull in the street.
It's surprising things worked as well as they did at the magazine. Frisk does a good job of describing the inner wangling factions at NR, often setting Rusher at odds not only with WFB, but also with such eminences as James Burnham. There were disagreements aplenty: what the overall tone of the magazine should be; which political candidates should be supported, which dumped; just how dismissive should the magazine be toward conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, and other fringe-dwellers. (Shrinking the tent of acceptability is fine in theory, but once you start factoring in the loss of subscribers, contributors, and advertisers, it gets more difficult.)
Rusher was a huge Goldwater fan in the early 1960s, a major force pushing him into his 1964 presidential candidacy. Frisk reminds us that, like any sane person would be, Goldwater was unenthusiastic about running. He seems only to have embraced the process when it was clear he wouldn't win.
But the Goldwater campaign was successful at beating the liberal Republicans, and it hatched the political career of conservatism's most shining success, Ronald Reagan. Rusher was an active participant there too. He never liked Nixon much, and wanted Reagan to be the nominee in 1968.
Outside of politics, well… there wasn't much there to Rusher. Never married, a few close friends. Obviously his choice, but somewhat sad.
I can't recommend this book to anyone who isn't really interested in the history of the US conservative political movement. At times it seems that there's no memo so inconsequential, no squabble so trivial, that Frisk doesn't describe it. Still, it's readable, and will act as a lasting memory to someone who undoubtedly had a major effect on his times.