Since Pat Buchanan is said to be seriously considering bolting the
Republican Party for the Reform Party, it is important to contemplate
the potential ramifications of such a decision.
His chief advisor, sister Bay Buchanan said, “I think it is an
incredible opportunity, and there is a big cry across the country for a
third party candidate.”
Adding further fuel to speculation about Pat’s defection is an e-mail
letter a friend forwarded to me from Pat to his followers. In the letter
he charges that “the Republican Party Establishment is attempting to put
the fix in and rig the 2000 nomination in favor of its anointed
candidate, Governor George W. Bush. And we need to protest this outrage,
Buchanan argues that such a closed nominating process will be
disastrous for Republicans, “Well, my friend, that is the formula for
yet another conservative-Republican defeat in 2000.”
Unfortunately, some establishment Republicans are not taking Pat’s
threats seriously. They are privately questioning whether Buchanan’s
departure would have a major impact. These officials contend that his
trade views would attract a fair share of hard-hat Democrats hurt by the
Clinton administration’s free-trade policies. They better think again.
It’s one thing for Pat to consider leaving the GOP. It’s quite
another for him to choose the Reform Party as his next home. Patrick
Choate, Perot’s running mate in 1996, says that Pat would be a perfect
fit because he is in tune with Reformers on its major issues: a balanced
budget, term limits and trade.
Well, is Choate correct? Everyone claims to support a balanced budget
these days, but what about the Reform Party’s position on taxes and
spending to achieve that balance? The truth is that Ross Perot’s fiscal
policies more closely resemble that of the Democrats than the
But worse, for Pat, is their stand on social issues. They are as
recalcitrant as Libertarians about social issues being a part of the
policy mix. But Pat has been a leading proponent of social conservatism,
including the right to life.
And does anybody even know where the Reform Party stands on other
major issues, such as foreign policy or what types of judges they would
The Reform Party is held together not by any cohesive ideology, but
by a common thread of frustration with the two major parties.
In addition, it is not clear that Pat would be unanimously welcomed
by all Reform leaders. Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is said to be
cool to the prospect of Buchanan’s Reform candidacy. He has said that
Buchanan’s social agenda does not fit with the Reform Party’s agenda,
which is mostly fiscal.
Pat’s decision to run on the Reform ticket wouldn’t be merely
quixotic as was Bob Smith’s threat to run on a third party ticket. His
candidacy could be as disruptive as Ross Perot’s was in 1992 and maybe
Ross Perot received 19 percent of the vote in 1992 and would have
received significantly more had he not demonstrated his singular
flakiness and temporarily bailed out of the race. In 1996, he still got
8 percent even though his quirkiness was by then well known.
The level of voter discontent is every bit as pronounced today as it
was in 1992. And the disillusionment and angst among the conservative
wing of the party may be at an all time high. Many of these voters are
very serious about either sitting out the election or throwing their
support to a viable third party candidate.
Though not all of these potential GOP defectors are necessarily in
Buchanan’s camp on every issue, especially his economic populism, they
share with him an abiding resentment and distrust for establishment
Republicans and their perceived cinch lock on the party nominating
If the eccentric and largely agendaless Ross Perot could garner 19
percent of the vote in 1992 and arguably sabotage George Bush Sr.’s
presidential election, how much more could a highly focused Pat Buchanan
do the same to a George W. Candidacy in 2000, especially with $12.5
million of federal matching funds in his arsenal?
It is very possible that a Reform Party Buchanan could tilt the
election to Al Gore.
Regardless of the magnitude of Pat’s frustration, I still can’t bring
myself to believe that this GOP stalwart would so willingly become Al
Gore’s greatest benefactor.
As he considers whether to run, Pat would be do well to heed his own
admonition in his letter to his followers: “Well, my friend, that is the
formula for yet another conservative-Republican defeat in 2000.”