Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Pat Buchanan's Presidential Run Worries GOP

By Jack Moczinski

MARCH 22, 1999:  Two weeks ago Pat Buchanan, conservative commentator and former aide to Republican presidents, entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. Buchanan has never been a shrinking violet, and he will certainly bring some excitement to the presidential race. In his two previous runs for president, he was pictured wearing a coonskin cap, carrying a peasant's pitchfork and spreading his message of economic isolationism and American conservatism.

His bombast is as legendary as is his dislike for moderate Republicans and Bill Clinton. He also has the reputation as an alley fighter--earned when he surprised President George Bush by beating him in the 1992 Republican Party primary in New Hampshire.

You may think that an aggressive, principled Republican would capture the heart of Republicans around the nation, right? Not really. To Republican strategists in Washington and around the land concerned about winning the presidency in 2000, no one causes late night sweats and nail biting more than Pat Buchanan.

Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and in governors' offices have tried to move the Republican Party more toward the middle of the ideological spectrum. They hoped that they could escape the characterization of their party as consisting of "right-wing extremists." The Clinton impeachment did not help that image, and moderate Republicans have tried to shy away from that label. At a recent Republican conference, Christine Todd Whitman, Republican governor of New Jersey, decried the right wing of the party.

Moderates believe that a middle of the road conservative who could talk about issues like tax cuts would be best to challenge the assumed Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore. They found their ideal candidate for the Presidency in Texas Gov. George W. Bush. The younger Bush has astronomical approval ratings, has a presidential aura and a history of attracting both Democratic and Republican votes.

But Pat Buchanan and far right conservatives crashed the moderates' party. Insiders thought Bush would easily roll over many of the unproved conservative Republicans in the field. But Buchanan, who has run twice for the presidency and has run strongly at times, is a force for Bush to reckon with. In the eyes of socially conservative Republicans, Bush can't hold a candle to Buchanan, especially when it comes to favorite conservative issues like abortion.

These conservatives are an important bunch in the presidential primaries. Those who vote in Republican primaries tend to be more conservative than those who vote in general elections. They tend to be the party faithful, and they demand a lot from the candidates.

That's important in presidential primaries. The first three primary states, in order, are New Hampshire, Iowa and California. New Hampshire and Iowa are traditionally conservative states and small enough that someone like Buchanan can operate without a lot of funds. California would look more favorable to Bush due to the fact that it takes a lot of money to run a race in California. But Bucahanan should be optimistic about doing well in California--the California Republican Party recently elected a conservative, pro-life party chair over his moderate, pro-choice opponent.

Buchanan's strategy must be to beat Bush in both Iowa and New Hampshire and try to gain momentum for California and fare well there. By that time, if other, lesser candidates are out of the race and Buchanan and Bush are left alone, no doubt the race for the Republican nomination will be about the difference in philosophies between the moderate and conservative wings of the party.

Bush's people realize this. They've already begun to change his campaign message that he used in his 1998 Governor's race. At that time, he preached the politics of inclusion and avoided all statements relating to traditional conservative social issues, like those about choice, religion and family. Now his strategists have begun talking about exactly those issues, using conservative buzzwords like "values" and "morality."

If Bush does win the Republican nomination and does so by catering to the right wing of his party, he may have a hard time moving back to the center to challenge Gore. Although tides can change, there is very little wrong in the public's mind with the Clinton/Gore agenda, making it difficult for Bush to offer something better than what America has, or convincing them there's something wrong with what they've got.


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