Great Conservatives from American History #5: Bob Stump

In 1976, the Arizona Republicans were having a big fight over who was to succeed retiring Senator Paul Fannin. The contenders were both representatives and hardcore conservatives in Sam Steiger and John B. Conlan. The primary battle was bitter, and the winner, Steiger, came out of it a damaged candidate and he lost the election by over 10 points to Democrat Dennis DeConcini. The Republicans also lost Steiger’s seat to a Democrat. Although going from Fannin to DeConcini was a loss for conservatives, it turns out Steiger to Robert Lee “Bob” Stump (1927-2003) was not.

Stump, a cotton farmer by profession, was from the start of his Congressional career a poor fit in the Democratic Party. To win his seat, he spoke out against Vice Presidential nominee Walter Mondale. He had been elected to Congress in a time in which the conservative wing of the party was starting its decline that had kicked off from a change in policy from House Democrats, that who would get a committee chairmanship would no longer be based on seniority alone. Democrats were in no mood for a repeat of the obstructionism of Howard W. Smith of Virginia or the prejudiced and patronizing Eddie Hebert of Louisiana. Stump’s record was shockingly conservative from the get-go, rivaling that of Larry McDonald of Georgia, who would become chairman of the John Birch Society. Americans for Constitutional Action gave him a 100% in both 1977 and 1978. Republicans noticed how poor a fit Stump was for the party and often tried to recruit him. Leading Republican John Rhodes (R-Ariz.) brought the issue up with him multiple times, stating, “I’ve told him any time he wants to switch parties, I can guarantee him the Republican nomination” (CQ, 57). Back when conservative organizations courted Democrats, he was found to be a valuable presence to make their organizations more than simply an arm of the Republican Party. He was part of the advisory boards of the National Right to Work Committee, the Gun Owners of America, and the American Conservative Union. The Democratic leadership was inclined to keep him around simply as a vote for organization of the House.

The liberal project for the domination of the Democratic Party would be stymied for a brief time in the 97th Congress, in which 63 House Democrats bucked party leadership to back the Gramm-Latta Budget and 48 backed the Kemp-Roth substitute that ultimately made up the tax reduction bill. Although the Democratic leadership declined to penalize members who voted for these laws, they were put on notice that future voting in this direction could result in penalties. This prompted Stump to announce in September 1981 that he would switch to the Republican Party. He stated on his departure, “I have been a Democrat all my life. But I find that I can no longer support the policies dictated by the liberals who dominate the party” and went on to say “There were history-making proposals to cut the budget and cut taxes this session. I voted for all those proposals, against the demands of the party liberals” (Hulbert). Stump hoped that his departure would motivate other Democrats to switch, and he was followed by Eugene Atkinson of Pennsylvania and Phil Gramm of Texas. However, most chose to remain. Richard Shelby of Alabama was reportedly close to switching, but he opted to move up in the Democratic Party, eventually winning election to the Senate in 1986. It was after the 1994 Republican Revolution that he switched to the Republican Party. Even Larry McDonald of Georgia, the most conservative of them all, stuck with the Democratic Party until his death. Stump’s switch would be official in the 98th Congress.

In the 98th Congress, Stump the Republican was an even stronger conservative than he had been before, being a strong supporter of Reagan’s increases in defense spending and anti-communist foreign policy. He was also a staunch budget slasher on domestic matters. Stump followed through on fiscal conservatism in his own affairs, maintaining a bare-bones staff. Thus, he performed some secretarial functions, and it was entirely possible that if you called Stump’s Washington D.C. office, he would answer the phone himself. It is hard to imagine any elected official in Washington answering cold phone calls. Stump also sponsored legislation to make English the official language of the United States and pushed for legislation to counter automatic citizenship being conferred upon the children of illegal immigrants. He would make an exception in conservatism in his opposition to prayer in public schools and also opposed the Equal Access Act in 1984. These actions stemmed from his strict belief in separation of church and state as a Seventh Day Adventist.

Stump was committed unwaveringly to an anti-communist foreign policy, consistently backing world actors who were opposed to communism. In 1986, he successfully pushed for ending the prohibition on aid to UNITA anti-communist rebels in Angola, a follow-up to the repeal of the Clark Amendment the previous year. Stump briefly considered running for the Senate to succeed Barry Goldwater but ultimately demurred to Congressman John McCain. He also became one of the chamber’s foremost naysayers, seldom finding a domestic spending proposal he liked. Stump also voted against a lot of social legislation that received overwhelming margins of passage, including the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

In 1994, a Republican House was elected after forty years of Democratic control and Stump was now chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, where he pushed for college and job opportunities for veterans. Although by this time a powerful member of Congress, he was a workhorse rather than a showhorse. As Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said about him, “He always shunned the limelight, but got the job done” (USA Today, 2002). In June 1998, it was mistakenly reported that Bob Hope had died, and Stump announced his death on the floor of the House. Ironically, Hope would die five weeks after him. In 2001, Stump became chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and in this capacity, he successfully pushed for increasing pay for military personnel, additional military construction, and the Bush Administration’s plan for missile defense (USA Today, 2003). In April 2002, he announced his retirement due to declining health, which turned out to be from myelodysplasia, a serious blood disorder. Stump died of this ailment on June 20, 2003. His American Conservative Union lifetime score was a whopping 97%, indicating a strong adherence to conservative principles.

Stump earns an entry for being a leading light for Reagan Democrats to move to the Republican Party, being among the leading supporters of anti-communist foreign policy, his leading advocacy for making English the official language of the United States, his leadership on national defense and the well-being of the nation’s veterans, and his limited government philosophy that applied on the spending side and not merely in the form of tax reductions.


Former Ariz. congressman Bob Stump dies. (2003, June 22). USA Today.

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Hurlbert, D. (1981, September 25). Rep. Bob Stump, a conservative Democrat has announced plans… UPI.

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Politics in America (1981). Congressional Quarterly, 57.

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Rep. Bob Stump of Arizona retiring. (2002, April 26). USA Today.

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2 thoughts on “Great Conservatives from American History #5: Bob Stump

  1. Stump Has A Fascinating Story… You Tell IT Well! Have Read That He Was A Cotton Farmer Who Received Federal Farm Subsidies. What Was His Record Here? Finally, What WAS His Role With The Boll Weevils. History Seems To Focus On Sonny Montgomery & The Three Amigos From Texas, Phil Gramm, Kent Hance, & Charles Stenholm. Gramm & Hance Switched After Stump. Would Like To Know More. Thanks From Dave IN TEXAS.

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