Former Wyoming Senator Malcolm Wallop died yesterday at the age of 78. Wallop was one of the great unsung heroes of the modern conservative movement. He tended to be overlooked because he was not a flamboyant media hound or a lightning rod like Jesse Helms. To the contrary, he was a behind-the-scenes workhorse.
Where to begin recounting Wallop’s greatness? He was, in some ways, the father of Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Starting the late 1970s, before Reagan was president and when Wallop was the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he began advocating that the U.S. revive missile defense. He mastered more than the politics of it; he mastered much of the scientific detail (with the supremely able assistance of another of my heroes, his staffer Angelo Codevilla). Wallop was also a trenchant critic of arms control, and wrote several good books on the issue.
His election to the Senate in 1976 featured one of the great all time TV spots. It opened with a shot of the windswept Wyoming plain, with a voiceover explaining that new OSHA regulations required that a toilet be placed within 100 feet of every worker. Then, a cowboy on horseback rides into the frame—with a commode strapped to the side of the horse. It was devastatingly effective. If it exists on YouTube, I cannot find it, though perhaps it is in one of the various online archives of TV political spots.
Several years ago I had the privilege of speaking along with Sen. Wallop at Hillsdale College, after which we shared the three-day stagecoach
ride two-hour car ride to the Detroit airport. We shared one of those once-in-a-lifetime wide-ranging conversations. He told me at great length about his interactions with Reagan over missile defense, and many other things besides (including how he didn’t think much of his fellow Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson). I was also acquainted with his widow, Isabel, because she had worked at AEI a few years ago. I knew he had been ill for some time; we were supposed to be at dinner together at a mutual friend’s house a year or so ago, but he had to cancel at the last minute. Kind thoughts to Isabel and his four children.
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