Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who died yesterday at the age of 92, was an early and ardent supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, one of the few Religious Right leaders who embraced the thrice-married, brash business mogul before they were left with no other option.
Schlafly’s love of Trump was hardly surprising: For decades, she has fought to build a Republican Party that rejects immigrants, stirs up fears of communists (and now Muslims), condemns “globalism,” eschews “political correctness,” and does it all with the veneer of protecting the “traditional family.” Trump was the candidate she had been waiting for.
Schlafly got her start as an anti-communist activist in the 1950s and 1960s, defending Sen. Joe McCarthy’s notorious communist hunt until the end and canceling her subscription to The National Review when it denounced the conspiratorial anti-communist John Birch Society. In 1964, she self-published a book called “A Choice Not An Echo,” urging the GOP to reject moderation and back Sen. Barry Goldwater’s presidential run; that year, Goldwater lost the presidential election in a landslide but made an indelible impact on the Republican Party.
But Schlafly really made a name for herself as the nation’s most famous anti-feminist, leading the successful fight to stop the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Throughout her career, Schlafly denounced “the feminists” and their goals, even as she became a successful career woman in her own right. (Schlafly’s niece later admitted that even as the activist exulted stay-at-home mothering as the natural role of women, she hired domestic help to help her manage balancing her career and childrearing.)
Through her group Eagle Forum, Schlafly remained active in a long list of conservative causes after the ERA was defeated.
Later in her career, Schlafly denounced equal pay legislation, saying that the “so-called pay gap” should actually be increased to help women find husbands who earn more than them. In 2007, she said that it was impossible for a husband to rape his wife because “by getting married, the woman has consented to sex.” A staunch opponent of abortion rights, Schlafly founded the Republican National Coalition for Life to ensure that the GOP remained an anti-choice party.
Hand-in-hand with Schlafly’s anti-feminism was her staunch opposition to LGBT rights. One of her primary arguments against the Equal Rights Amendment was that it would eventually lead to marriage equality and other rights for LGBT people. Her views on the issue didn’t waver even after her son John, who remains active in Eagle Forum, was outed as gay.
In recent years, Schlafly turned much of her attention to fighting immigration, and particularly to fighting efforts within the GOP to be more welcoming to immigrants. After the Republican National Committee responded to Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential election by issuing an “autopsy” report that urged the party to stop alienating Latinos, partially by considering immigration reform, Schlafly lashed out, saying that there was no hope for the GOP to win Latinos. Latinos, she said, don’t “have any Republican inclinations at all” because “they’re running an illegitimacy rate that’s just about the same as the blacks are.” She added that Latinos “come from a country where they have no experience with limited government. And the types of rights we have in the Bill of Rights, they don’t understand that at all, you can’t even talk to them about what the Republican principle is.”
Schlafly attacked President Obama for bringing in “foreign ideas and diseases and people who don’t believe in self-government” and repeatedly declared that current levels of immigration are destroying America. In response to people skeptical of Trump’s plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, Schlafly scoffed. “In my mind’s eye,” she said, “I see those railroad cars full of illegals going south. That’s what they ought to do.” Schlafly made clear that her objection was not to immigration in general, but to the fact that many immigrants were coming from Latin America, saying last year that while it is “quite true that America was built by hard-working people from all over the world,” today’s immigrants are “not the same sort” as the mostly European immigrants who flocked to the country in the early 20th century.
She tried to square this anti-immigrant sentiment with her Christian beliefs by claiming that the Bible’s demands of “kindness and compassion” to strangers do not apply to the government’s treatment of immigrants.
It’s no wonder that Schlafly loved Trump, who offered to deliver the Religious Right’s policy priorities while putting his heart into fighting immigration and stirring up fears of the supposed radical Muslim infiltration of America. Schlafly stuck with Trump, whom she introduced at a St. Louis campaign rally, even as her support for his candidacy helped to tear apart both her organization and her family. In the month's before Schlafly's death, her daughter joined other Eagle Forum officials in a lawsuit that seeking the ouster of Schalfly’s handpicked, pro-Trump successor. Fittingly, Schlafly’s final book was released today. It’s called “The Conservative Case for Trump.”
Trump may seem like something new in the political system, but he’s exactly the kind of candidate Schlafly spent her life priming the GOP to accept.