Bill Brock, the former Tennessee Senator who, as party chairman, revitalized and expanded the Republican Party’s machinery after Watergate to pave the way for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election, died Thursday in a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 90 years old.
The cause was pneumonia, said Tom Griscom, a family spokesman.
Mr Brock, as a representative from Tennessee, voted against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 – a vote he later regretted – but as party leader he became a strong voice for greater Republican efforts to win over black voters.
As chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1977 to 1981, he clashed with Reagan over the treaties on the Panama Canal and the location of the 1980 National Convention. (Mr. Brock voted for Detroit, a black majority city; Reagan preferred Dallas.) After winning the nomination, Reagan retained him as party chair and later elected him as United States sales representative and then secretary of labor.
Mr Brock won his party’s chairmanship at a time when it was demoralized after the Watergate scandal and the fall of Richard M. Nixon and only 20 percent of Americans in command of polls commanded the allegiance, according to the New York Times / CBS News.
The Republicans had lost the White House in 1976 and suffered heavy losses in the congressional elections that year, as in 1974. Mr Brock himself was among the victims in 1976, losing his Senate re-election bid to Democrat James Sasser.
Despite supporting President Gerald R. Ford in the 1976 nomination race against Reagan, Mr. Brock was seen as a compromise candidate between the preferred choices of Ford and Reagan: James A. Baker III, Ford’s 1976 campaign manager, and Richard Richards, Republican chairman of Utah and a supporter of Reagan.
Even before he became chairman, Brock said in 1975 that the party had suffered because Republicans were perceived as “old, middle-class, higher income.” When he was elected chairman of the National Committee in 1977, he said: “The party cannot just open its doors. It has to go out and bring people in while giving them a real voice in our leadership and in developing our goals. That is, stir the water. “
He worked to develop a “farm team” of candidates for local and legislative offices and the party staff to help them win. He made a more visible effort to address workers, young people, women, and black Americans. He stormed the country in favor of Rep. Jack Kemp’s plan for massive tax cuts in 1978 and, two years later, R.N.C. Money in TV commercials with the slogan “Vote Republican for a Change”.
His efforts to make the party more attractive, especially for black voters, led him to campaign for Detroit to host the 1980 National Convention. Reagan’s supporters on the National Committee wanted Dallas, but Mr. Brock narrowly prevailed.
Mr Brock had angered Reagan in 1977 when he refused to use party money on a campaign signed by President Jimmy Carter against the treaties that handed the Panama Canal over to Panama. Some Reagan allies wanted to punish Mr Brock for his resistance by blocking his re-election as party chairman in 1980, but Reagan took advice to keep Mr Brock going on behalf of party unity.
As a commercial agent, Mr. Brock set up voluntary quotas for Japanese automobile sales in the United States in 1981, focusing trade energies away from manufacturing towards services, investments and intellectual property. He began working on bilateral free trade agreements (a pact with Israel was the only one he made) and laid the groundwork for the Uruguayan trade talks and the World Trade Organization that emerged from them in 1995.
Mr. Brock moved to the Ministry of Labor in 1985. He befriended workers (and enemies among some Reagan high school students) by promoting positive action programs and enforcing the Workplace Health and Safety Act. In a broader sense, he tried to redirect the department’s efforts towards vocational training and productivity.
He left the Department of Labor in 1987 to lead Bob Dole’s unsuccessful bid for the 1988 presidential run.
A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Brock who later moved to Annapolis, Md., Undertook his final electoral endeavor to run for the Senate from Maryland. 1994, a generally great year for Republicans, was beaten by Paul Sarbanes, the incumbent Democrat.
His other primary interest after leaving government was working on two national commissions to reform American education with the aim of creating a workforce for the 21st century. He also started a trade advisory firm in Washington.
During the busy 2016 season, Mr. Brock rejected Donald J. Trump’s candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination and spoke publicly and remorsefully about a loss of courtesy in American politics.
William Emerson Brock III was born on November 23, 1930 to William E. Jr. and Myra (Kruesi) Brock. He grew up in a Democratic family and attended schools in Chattanooga and nearby Lookout Mountain.
He graduated from Washington & Lee University in Virginia and served in the Navy. He then went into the family business in Tennessee and became vice president of Brock Candy Company. It was founded by his grandfather, William E. Brock, who served as the Democratic Senator from Tennessee from 1929 to 1931 and was appointed to fill a post.
Mr Brock married Laura Handly, who was known as Muffet, in 1957. She died of cancer 1985 at the age of 49, when Mr. Brock was Labor Secretary. He later married Sandra Schubert Mitchell.
He is survived by his wife; three sons from his first marriage, William E. IV, John and Oscar (who was active in Republican politics in Tennessee); a daughter, Laura Hutchey Brock Doley, also from his first marriage; two stepchildren, Julie Janka and Stephen Cram; two brothers, Pat and Frank; 17 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Brock won a House seat in 1962 and served four terms before challenging Albert Gore Sr. in 1970 in his bid for a fourth term in the Senate. Mr Gore’s opposition to the Vietnam War had made him a primary target of the Nixon White House. the money and advisors funneled to Mr. Brock.
The Brock campaign ran ads attacking the incumbent, a Democrat, for fines and prayers in schools, and was brought into contact with ordinary Tennesseans as not being common. On billboards he proclaimed: “Bill Brock believes in the things we believe in.” It was this message, and not everything Mr Brock himself said, that led journalist David Halberstam to write in Harper’s Magazine that the slogan was an encrypted message was white racists, and concluded that Brock had carried out a “shabby racist campaign”.
In a 2009 interview for this obituary, Mr Brock said that the racism charge made him angry. The poster message, he said, was only meant to label Mr. Gore as unrelated to his state.
But the allegation, he said, prompted him to embark on a “fairly serious soul quest,” as some white Tennesseeans may have advocated the message as a racist appeal. His concern heightened when he became the national party leader. He said his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which retrospectively called his own voice “stupid”, had made the party appear “exclusive”.
“I felt and had a feeling that any party that doesn’t pay attention to every constituency group in the United States does not deserve support from any of those groups,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you have to get them. But it does mean you have to try. It does mean you have to listen. It does mean, however, that you have to understand their concerns or you will be in the wrong business. The longer I get I’m around, the stronger I feel. “
Adam Clymer, a reporter and editor at The Times from 1977 to 2003, died in 2018. Alex Traub contributed to the coverage.