Jack Kemp's legacy

What made the late Republican a great leader, and what held him back

It's hard to believe that someone as alive as Jack Kemp could be gone, said National Review in an editorial. The former Republican congressman and presidential candidate, who died over the weekend at 73, had boundless enthusiasm for tax cuts and "concern for black advancement." Kemp, who helped convert Ronald Reagan to supply-side economics in the late 1970s, was "a bright and earnest man."

Kemp's "genial nature" and compassion, said Nick Gillespie in Reason, made him a model for a Republican Party that "might not creep out half or more of Americans." But Kemp "couldn't or wouldn't deliver" major tax policy victories or reach higher office, which should show "dead-end Republicans" what happens when you balk at "truly radical thoughts."

Kemp lacked "the deep abiding ambition that it takes to become president," said John B. Judis in The New Republic. In his first career, as a professional football quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, Kemp's determination helped him lead his team to two American Football League championships. He wanted to succeed in politics, but he didn't pursue that career as "relentlessly" because it was an epilogue, a second act.

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Kemp may have "lacked the consuming focus" that the quest for the presidency requires, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. "But in his passion for ideas—and in the affection he inspired—Jack was the most influential modern Republican who never became president."

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