• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

Pat Buchanan got the money. And he got the franchise. The Federal
Election Commission voted last week to award him the Reform Party’s
$12.6
million, thereby recognizing him as Reform’s nominee.

Now, finally, Buchanan can begin his presidential campaign. But what

exactly is it? Or more precisely, what exactly remains of it?

Pat started out his independent presidential bid just a year ago with
a
large dose of populist bravado. Turning his back on the Republican
Party,
he faced the television cameras and put his best foot forward: his
anti-establishment, anti-corporate, anti-two party wit and grit. He
signed
me up as campaign co-chair and announced his interest in a left-right
coalition for political and trade reform and a new alliance between
white
and black victims of globalism and imperialism.

But populist rhetoric aside, the unspoken (by him) motivation for his

Reform candidacy was that Buchanan had been marginalized within the
Republican Party. He was marginalized by the cooptation of the social
conservative movement by the George Bush centrists.

The allure of the new anti-globalist American populism is profound.
Initially, it seemed that Pat might try to reposition his social
conservative followers in a broader, more process-oriented environment.
Perhaps, in his most lucid moments, Pat understood that he needed a
lifeline to a new political identity; that any effort to merely graft
the
social conservative worldview onto the Reform movement would be
stillborn.

But instead of using that new environment to recreate himself and
redefine
his relevance, he used the lifeline to hang himself. The reasons for
this
are complicated. His Brigade leaders wanted only a resurrection of
their
ultra-right glory days. His sister and campaign manager, Bay had
absolutely no coalition-building skills. And Pat ultimately lacked the
intelligence, honesty and vision needed. He fell back on his old
bullying
mores and his old ideological message.

Prominent social conservatives like Bill Bennett and Bill Kristol are
busy
encouraging George Bush to regenerate his own flagging presidential
campaign by attack Al Gore as a “liberal” or a “left-winger.” So far
Bush
has resisted, because he seems to understand that social conservatism
and
its rhetoric have lost their force as principles around which to
organize
the American people. But in more practical terms, Bush simply knows
that
the social conservatives have nowhere else to go. They will not, in
large
measure, go with Pat Buchanan, into a fringe presidential bid that is
showing at barely 1 percent in the polls. Not when they’ve been neatly
and
purposefully embroidered into the fabric of mainstream Republicanism.

The only hope for Pat was that he’d win his lawsuit to get into the
presidential debates based on the legal theory that his receipt of
public
money means debate sponsors have an automatic obligation to include him.

He lost that case last week. Still, it is highly questionable whether
Buchanan — even if he’d gotten in the debates — could top 5 percent in

November, the percentage needed to requalify for funds in 2004. With
1 percent or 2 percent, he will hold onto only a handful of state
parties with ballot status.

Buchanan, however briefly he dallied with left-right populism,
betrayed
that movement completely. Ross Perot himself failed to speak out for it

during the entire fight to prevent Buchanan from capturing Reform, and
then
– literally at the 11th hour — swore to an affidavit contesting
Buchanan’s
claim to the party. Even Buchanan, who aspires to the nominal if not
substantive Perot mantle, noted the pathetic nature of Perot’s
intervention.

Now Buchanan is where he belongs. On the political fringe. He could
not
make social conservatism fly in the Republican Party, much less in the
third-party movement. It is the progressive Ralph Nader and the Green
Party who stand to get the 5 percent, and it is the progressive John
Hagelin who, having lost the fight with Buchanan, is mustering a new
coalitional
possibilities from within what was the Reform wing of the independent
movement.

So long, Pat. You might have been right from the beginning. But
you’ve been left in the dust by America’s independents.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.