not to be confused with John Ashcroft
John Milan Ashbrook (1928-1982) was a leading conservative in the 1960s and 1970s as a member of the House of Representatives. He challenged and ran against President Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential primary, paving the way for fellow conservative Ronald Reagan's more successful challenge of incumbent President Gerald Ford in the 1976 primary.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy, he worked upon graduation of law school for the Johnstown Independent, a weekly newspaper that he father, also a Congressman, had founded in 1884. That gave him publicity to be elected in 1956 as a Republican to the Ohio General Assembly. He served it for two yaerd before being elected to Congress in 1960, where he served 22 years without interruption. He was one of the founders of the American Conservative Union and served as its chairman from 1966 to 1971. He was also one of the founders of the draft Barry Goldwater movement in 1963.
John Ashbrook is best known for challenging Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential primary. In Ashbrook's announcement of his candidacy for president, he listed how Nixon had betrayed his campaign promises in 1968 and was governing like a liberal rather than like a conservative:
- "He [Nixon] has led the drive to admit Red China into the United Nations, and watched the cynical expulsion of the Republic of China from that body - though the government on Taiwan is one of America's oldest and closest allies, and despite the fact that he had pledged less than a year ago that we would never desert it."
- "He has permitted our defenses to sink from a status of clear superiority to one of bare "sufficiency", and then still further to a level at which stark, irretrievable inferiority is less than two years away."
- "He has allowed a deficit of 30 billion dollars in the current fiscal year, with all that implies for the overheating of the economy and the inevitable accompanying inflation - and has then sought to mask the inflationary effect by imposing an absurd tangle of wage and price controls that are already being widely ignored, in large part because nobody can possibly understand them."
- "He has allowed still bigger deficits in the years ahead, and still more vicious cycles of inflation and regimentation, by calling for the early enactment of a Family Assistance Plan that will easily double the already swollen cost of welfare to the taxpaying citizens of this country."
Ashbrook received 9.6% of the vote in New Hampshire, less than 9% in Florida, and then 10% in Nixon's home state of California, before pulling out. Later, when the Watergate scandal hit, he was among the first Republicans to call for Nixon's resignation. Ashbrook was preparing for a Senate run in 1982 when he died suddenly.
Shortly after his death, the Ashbrook Center was established at Ashland University in his home state of Ohio, which remains a major part of the university. It has hosted prominent conservatives as guest speakers including President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Massachusetts Governor (and 2012 presidential candidate) Mitt Romney. Ashbrook's papers are maintained at the center, consisting of 309 feet of documents (mostly congressional papers) and personal documents spanning 1950 to 1982.
- American National Biography, Volume I, ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (Oxford University Press, 1999)