When Jack Kemp ducked out of the presidential run, who really regretted it? Mostly, leaders on the left. He was their foil to the other Republicans. When Kemp yelped at voters for being insufficiently loving of the urban poor—nobody, not even Jesse Jackson, can mau mau like Kemp—the media could complain that others aren’t “reaching out for the black vote.” But why must reaching out for that bloc entail reaching for everyone else’s wallet?

Kemp was like that, passionately devoted to welfare, big government, big spending, and even welfare for illegal aliens, not to mention foreign wars and foreign aid. But he also loved marginal tax cuts, meaning he did not have the decency to tell the truth about government accounting. He made some noises against the bailout of Mexico, the United States banks holding its debt, but given his history, who could take this seriously?

He was as verbally tricky as William Clinton, and, like him, his speeches were always much too long. The difference is that Clinton is smarter. Kemp could not resist openly offending his audiences. Once at a Heritage Foundation event, an innocent young intern asked what he thought about the work of Thomas Sowell. Kemp interrupted the question to denounce conservatives—and implicitly the questioner—for not celebrating civil rights, Rosa Parks, and racial integration as guided by the federal government.

Republicans finally stopped pretending that his fanatical egalitarianism was merely an attempt to sell free enterprise to a new audience. The clincher came when he flew to California to vilify Proposition 187. His aides were embarrassed, his followers were disillusioned, and his prospects for the presidency, already low, were wiped out. “At fundraising events,” he said in his final press conference, “I didn’t seem to be talking about the things that fund-raising people wanted me to talk about.” No kidding.

This magazine was the earliest and most relentless of Jack Kemp’s critics, and much of that material was stolen by sunshine soldiers. Fine: we can declare victory and move on. It’s too bad Kemp’s influence and style aren’t going to disappear with him.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page ended its political obituary of Kemp this way: “[Kemp’s] optimism has helped to transcend crabby right-wing tribalism. . . . While others will have to finish the job, they should remember what—and who—got them this far.” Progressive conservatives should remember how far this got Kemp.