Waning Cry from the Right
Trying to tap voters' anger, Patrick Buchanan has turned off as many as he's turned on. That neatly sums up his world view: 'Them or us'
So far, New Hampshire is not buying Buchanan's worldview. He might not get 30 percent of the vote, according to polls last week. The reason is that for all his attempts to strike hot-button issues, Buchanan's anecdotes don't cut it with voters who want answers. When he spoke at a recent forum for the elderly, Buchanan earned groans for delivering a long speech on trade but offering no specifics on health care. He got no sympathy by saying that he is sometimes so frustrated by the paperwork of health insurance forms that he has told his wife, "Just go ahead and write them a check." Still, his ability to laugh at himself is appealing. John Sununu, he says, is "entirely too sweet and sensitive" to take his place on television. And Buchanan cuts through policyspeak. At a Republican kaffeeklatsch, Buchanan earned big applause but probably few votes when he described how he'd get the Kuwaitis to buy American: sit the emir down with a choice of U.S. jets and say: "Listen, little fella, pick an airline out or call the Germans next time you're in trouble."
He is hardly a man of the people. He earns several hundred thousand dollars a year between his television shows, speaking fees, column and newsletter. He drives a Mercedes and has never set foot in Washington's subway. Yet he is very approachable--something that comes across well on television--and he knows the medium. Weeks ago, two minutes before broadcast of the nightly talk show "Crossfire," CNN staffers hustled to turn a New Hampshire Holiday Inn room into a makeshift studio. He warned his producer in TV jargon that his earpiece "sounds overmodulated." When 7:30 arrived, Buchanan became the first presidential candidate ever interviewed on his own talk show.
If voters are passing on Buchanan's message, an obscure clique of far-right intellectuals is relishing it. He is being advised by self-styled paleoconservatives and libertarians like Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman and Libertarian presidential candidate. Though Buchanan parts with them on trade, they like his attacks on government and his America-first foreign policy. For his part, Buchanan likes their antigovernment economics and loves their loyalty. "These guys were great, they really stuck up for me," he says of their defense that he is not an antisemite. The personal ties move Buchanan ideologically: "I'm closer to Cato than I am to Heritage," he says of Washington's libertarian and conservative think tanks.
Buchanan's new loyalties now lie outside the GOP mainstream at a time when his political ambition demands that he have allies. Friends speculate that he hopes to run for president in 1996 or for the Senate from Virginia. For now, he's lucid enough to know that Bush will likely prevail. "The private sector holds no terror for me," he says defiantly. At a recent photo shoot in Manchester, N.H., Buchanan stands in a once thriving mall that is now empty. The photographer wants him to don boxing gloves. The candidate declines. "Too aggressive," he says. It's a rare moment of restraint.