NEW YORK – Amid rumblings of another Mitt Romney run for the White House, author and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan is advising the GOP to avoid nominating the first two-time loser since Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson lost to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and again in 1956.
In a wide-ranging interview on his new book, “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from the Dead to Create the New Majority,” Buchanan expressed doubt that Romney could make the kind of historic comeback Nixon accomplished in 1968.
Buchanan, a WND columnist, believes Romney would beat Barack Obama if the presidential election of 2012 were held today. But he contends Romney would lose in 2016 to Hillary Clinton, the Democrats most likely choice.
Buchanan bases his analysis on his nearly 50 years of top-level election experience. In December 1965, he left his job writing editorials for the St. Louis Globe Democrat and was hired by the Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander, and Mitchell law firm in New York City. A year later, Nixon’s campaign hired him as its first adviser.
Buchanan believes, however, that Clinton will need to work skillfully to distance herself sufficiently from Barack Obama while reassuring Democrats she still advocates the progressive values of the party’s base.
“In 1968, the GOP was seen as an acceptable alternative to the Democratic Party,” Buchanan said.
“Today, while the country is ready to reject Obama, it is not ready to accept the Republican Party as an alternative. Among the reasons are the huge demographic changes in an electorate that is now approaching 30 percent from Third World countries that vote 70 to 90 percent for Democrats. These figures are not moving in the GOP’s direction, they are moving in the other way.”
Hillary running against Obama
Hillary’s problem right now, Buchanan stressed, is that she is running against the growing perception of being part of the Obama administration.
“The American people now are wondering if they want four years of Hillary after the two years of Obama since 2012,” he said.
Buchanan said it’s much like the problem President Lyndon Johnson had in 1968 after winning in a landslide four years earlier.
“By 1968, the American people were saying, ‘We’re not sure we want any more of this guy,’” he said.
“This is the problem the Democrats are having today and the reason Hillary is receding from her high point of something like 70 percent approval when she left her job as secretary of state.”
Buchanan made clear that despite Hillary’s recent decline in popularity, she remains the front-runner.
“It’s very hard to see if Hillary runs who will beat her,” he stressed. “I don’t see Elizabeth Warren beating her. I tell people that if I were a 45-year-old Democratic senator, I would run, and I would challenge Hillary on issues, so if I lost I would have gained the opportunity to introduce myself to the American people and hope lightening strikes.”
Mindful of Bill Clinton’s support of Hillary’s candidacy, he added, “But I doubt any Democrat wants to take the risk of running against Hillary, since it means going after the king, and failing to get the job done might just have disastrous consequences.”
Comparing Romney’s comeback probabilities to Nixon’s, Buchanan said there’s nobody in the GOP like Nixon.
“Before I was 10 years old, Nixon was a world figure that had taken down Alger Hiss and was a famous American congressman who had wiped out Helen Gahagan Douglas by the largest majority in California history (for a U.S. Senate seat),” he said. “Then he was the second youngest vice president. He was a huge figure in the GOP, and there is nobody in the GOP with that stature today.”
Buchanan conceded the nation has changed since Nixon was on the political landscape.
“I can see back in 1965 how the GOP could be stitched together, and you might have trouble holding the liberals,” he said. “But if you commanded the center and the right, you see how we could trade our liberals, the Rockefeller Republicans, to pull away from the Democrats’ huge segments of FDR’s socially conservative supporters, including the ethnics who voted Democratic, southern Protestants and Catholics, in a trade where the GOP came out on top.”
Where are the conservative Democrats?
Buchanan believes the GOP is in a much more difficult position today to turn such a trade into a winning presidential coalition.
“It’s hard to see today where the GOP can find enough conservative Democrats to pull away,” he said. “It used to be there were a lot of conservative Democrats. Today, there aren’t that many.”
Buchanan pointed out the Democrats begin presidential campaigns with a large electoral vote advantage.
“In the last six elections, the Democrats have won the same 18 states plus the District of Columbia all six times, and among those states are California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York – four of the big seven. Two of the other big seven are now swing states – Ohio and Florida. Texas is the only reliable state of the big seven that the Republicans have left. So if the GOP loses those 18 states plus the District of Columbia, adding up to about 242 electoral votes, the Democrats need to pick one or two tricks and it’s over.”
Buchanan said he found it difficult to believe any GOP contender could break the Democratic Party hold on the presidential electorate.
“It’s hard for me to see what Republican cracks that base that is increasingly solid Democratic – first because of demography and second because of the welfare state that now embraces scores of millions of people who look upon anyone wanting to cut government as somebody who’s going to take my food stamps away, or cut my education, or my health care, or my housing subsidy, or my income subsidy.”
Buchanan pointed out that in 1968, Nixon’s only real contender for the GOP presidential nomination was Michigan Gov. George Romney, father of Mitt Romney, but before the New Hampshire primary, Nixon was ahead among GOP voters by a margin of 4 to 1.
“The real problem for me in 1968 would have been had then-governor of California Ronald Reagan stepped in and torn the conservative vote away from Nixon. As it was, Nixon basically scared any other GOP contender off from going strong into the primaries.”
Hard to see a clear GOP winner
But this year, Buchanan sees no GOP candidate who can command the kind of lead Nixon had in 1968 ahead of the primaries.
“Going into the GOP presidential primaries next year, it is hard to see a clear winner,” he said.
“Rand Paul will have a following, especially among young voters, and Ted Cruz ignites enough voters to have a strong following,” he said.
Among establishment GOP candidates, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie “is having a hard time recovering the support he lost and he’s now running behind Hillary even in New Jersey.”
“I would be surprised if Jeb Bush ran,” Buchanan said. “Florida Senator Marco Rubio damaged himself early on with the immigration issue.”
GOP can’t win without tea party
Buchanan advised that if Romney wants to run again in 2016, he should be out on the campaign trail supporting GOP candidates, much as Nixon did in 1966.
“Romney should today be working this fall not only for establishment GOP candidates but for tea party folks,” he said.
“The GOP cannot win without the tea party’s energy and enthusiasm. You need those folks, just like in 1968 Richard Nixon needed the Goldwater supporters and the Reagan supporters to win.”
Buchanan argued the voter coalition Nixon put together in 1968 was the greatest of the 20th century, with the possible exception of the FDR New Deal coalition that led to four presidential election victories in a row.
“People forget that after LBJ’s landslide victory in 1964, the GOP was half the size of the Democratic Party at the time,” he said.
Buchanan doubted Romney has the ability to pull together the type of historic voter coalition needed to beat the Democrats in 2016.
“Because Obama is so unpopular now and is likely to be increasingly unpopular in the next two years, and his foreign policy is going to antagonize the interventionist wing of the Democratic Party, Hillary will continue to take a harder line than Obama takes on foreign policy,” Buchanan said.
“Hillary will increasingly distance herself from Obama’s record so she is not seen by 2016 as the successor to Barack Obama, but as someone different, much more realistic and tough-minded, especially in foreign policy – more of a Bill Clinton than a Barack Obama,” he said.
“Where she is right now, she is winning the nomination. But the liberal wing of the Democratic Party will assert itself in 2016, and Hillary wants to make sure Democratic voters know she continues to hold the basic beliefs of the Democratic Party, especially on domestic issues.”
He concluded by emphasizing that Obama could not be elected president again, even if it were constitutionally possible for him to run for a third term.
“By the time of the 2016 presidential election, Hillary will be positioned as a non-Obama, because Obama could not win again. If Obama were to top the ticket as of right now, Republicans could break the 18-state hold the Democrats have on the presidential electorate.”
Buchanan summarized his assessment: “In a contest Romney vs. Obama next week, Romney wins. In a contest Romney vs. Hillary in 2016, Hillary wins, despite Hillary having to spend the remainder of this year and the next two years making her way through choppy waters.”
Read Buchanan’s latest WND column, “Is ISIS an ‘existential threat’ to America?”