Buchanan’s politics could alter Reform Party

by Peter Johnson

The mere mention of the name Patrick Buchanan elicits a strong emotional response.
For supporters, Buchanan represents an uncompromising politician who sticks up for old-fashioned, American values.
“First and foremost, he is principled, above anything else,” said Drew Westphal, a Buchanan supporter from Boca Raton, Fla. “He would never compromise. He knows what he believes in.”
To opponents, the lifelong politician embodies the darker shades in America’s political spectrum, namely those of racism, homophobia and right-bent conservatism.
But it’s safe to say both sides can agree that Buchanan — who stridently and frequently voices his strong opinions — enjoys controversy.
As an underdog GOP candidate in 1992 and 1996, Buchanan defined his fiery campaign style with attacks on both DFL and his fellow GOP candidates. His 1996 New Hampshire primary victory against widely favored Bob Dole came as a surprise and proved the potency of his populist-conservative ideology.
Buchanan later turned his allegiance to the Reform Party in 1999, a move that created problems for the party even though many Reform Party members favored him.
“I do think that he is out there speaking to our issues,” said Sheryl Blue, Iowa Reform Party chairwoman. But “other Reform Party members remain a bit apprehensive.”
Not everyone shares Blue’s enthusiasm.
“I just have a hard time with him,” said Vice Chair of the Minnesota Reform Party Buford Johnson. “I think he’s out of the loop … I don’t agree with him on his ideas, but I don’t believe in stifling ideas, either.”
Road to Reform
Buchanan was born Nov. 2, 1938, in Washington, D.C. As the son of a prominent accountant, he grew up in an affluent suburb and attended Georgetown University, receiving his bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy.
He later earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Buchanan worked for a now-defunct conservative newspaper, the St. Louis Globe-Dispatch, from 1962 to 1966.
He entered politics as a speechwriter and senior adviser to President Richard Nixon and served as President Ronald Reagan’s director of communications. By 1987, Buchanan was co-host of CNN’s Crossfire and a syndicated columnist.
After his two failed presidential campaigns during the 1990s, Buchanan had largely fallen out of favor with the GOP establishment. His propensity to go after other Republicans, his somewhat radical platform and a habit of making controversial statements alienated him from mainstream Republicans.
Buchanan’s statements against the World Trade Organization and his role in the December protests in Seattle have stressed Buchanan’s stance against globalization and free trade.
He recently called for the ending of economic sanctions against Iraq, Iran, Cuba and Libya. Reasoning that the United States needs to pursue a more moral policy toward rogue states, Buchanan stressed that the sanctions do little but punish the innocent and do not achieve foreign policy goals.
Westphal said, “He talks about some issues that nobody else will. I think the biggest one for me is immigration. He’s the only one who’s confronting that.”
His statements on interventionism and Nazi Germany have also caused controversy, as many see his opinions as being soft on Nazis and as an attempt to usher in an isolationist U.S. foreign policy.
Cedric Scofield, Midwestern regional representative to the National Executive Committee of the Reform Party, said Buchanan is a good representative:
“He is pretty strong on Reform Party issues … jobs in America, campaign finance reform and fair trade. He’s pretty much right on with these issues which are important issues to us.”
Standing in his way are Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and Donald Trump, who represent a wing of the Reform Party that has ideological and political differences with the Buchanan/Perot wing. Some feel that Buchanan will be a divisive force within the party.
Johnson said, “He’ll bring a lot of conflict. Actually (the party) will end up with two different parties — one that believes that government has a role in life and religion has a role in life.
“The other (party will be) bringing its social values, just like the Republicans have done, back into the political arena.”
Political analysts have said Buchanan needs to fight his extremist image in the hope of creating mass appeal and thereby making himself electable.
Buchanan and his supporters maintain that he has a reasonable chance to win in November. If his anti-globalization and anti-interventionist message resonates through Middle America, Buchanan might achieve a large degree of influence in a national election, they say.