Author’s Introduction (December 2007)
At a time when Ron Paul appears to be
poised to launch a presidential “insurgency-candidacy,” it
is helpful to examine earlier examples of this phenomenon. Buchanan’s
1992 candidacy occurred before the rise of the Internet as a mass medium.
Nevertheless, a populist opposition to the recession of the early 1990s
had a resonance at least somewhat comparable to that of opposition
to the war in Iraq today. When in 1992 it appeared that Buchanan might
actually win the Republican nomination, the result was an unrelenting
firestorm of media and establishment Republican criticism that effectively
ended his chances of success. However, the following column accurately
predicted that Buchanan’s insurgency-candidacy had probably compromised
George H.W. Bush’s chances in the November 1992 U.S. presidential
Bush Critically Wounded by Buchanan Candidacy? (February 1992)
The 1992 American nomination process is producing a large number of
political surprises, among them, the emergence of Pat Buchanan as a
serious contender against President Bush. Further surprises may yet
be in store, for example, the late entry of [Mario] Cuomo or the continued
strength of [Paul] Tsongas [senator from Massachusetts], the anti-candidate
candidate. Tsongas looks like a decent, somewhat naive man of principle,
with little charisma or understanding of how sleazy the political process
actually is. Buchanan, in his own way, is an anti-politician politician
It is interesting to speculate to what extent class and religious
dynamics play a role in Buchanan’s campaign against Bush: Buchanan
as the working-class Catholic and Irish outsider; Bush as the effete,
WASP patrician of the Eastern Establishment. Bush’s prissy speech
compares unfavorably to Buchanan’s fiery — if controversial — declamation.
A deep antagonism is apparent in Buchanan’s use of the phrase “King
George” — an antagonism drawn from the decades-long exclusion
by the WASP elites of Catholics, white ethnics, and the white Protestant
working-classes from positions of serious power.
Buchanan’s protectionist politics, fighting words, and populist
style are akin in spirit to the early union and populist movements
of America, their sufferings from the exactions of WASP plutocrats,
and their resistance to “the social superiors who know better
how to organize and rule the country.” Buchanan despises country-club
Republicans and the elite of the Republican party, who, in his opinion,
have sold out heartland America.
Buchanan’s strong showing has critically wounded Bush, even
if he finishes the nomination process a winner. Poll results continue
to see Bush’s popularity in free-fall. To think that a controversial
commentator could seriously challenge the nomination of an incumbent
president, who once enjoyed a 90 percent approval rating, throws into
question Bush’s chances in November. What can his credibility
with the American people be, if his own Republicans are in virtual
revolt? If Bush wins the hard-fought nomination, his Democratic contenders
can leverage this to great benefit.
Ironically, the situation is such that Bush will have less of a chance
of winning the presidency, coming out of a hard-fought nomination fight,
than Buchanan might. The momentum of Buchanan’s historic overturning
of an incumbent president would be worth more in the presidential campaign
than Bush’s uninspired ability — backed by all the resources
of the Republican Party leadership and various friends in the media — to
quash the incipient “Middle American revolution.”
It is already too late for Bush’s advisors to advance the argument
that potential Buchanan supporters should rally behind the electable
candidate. Buchanan’s candidacy has inflicted an enormous amount
of damage and reduced Bush’s presidential chances considerably.
If Bush wins the nomination, the Democrats will have Buchanan to thank
for almost certainly handing them the real victory in November. However,
if Buchanan somehow wins the nomination, the race will be wide open.
A presidential campaign involving Buchanan versus Tsongas would be
so much more interesting and invigorating to the American political
process, and the over-all health of American democracy, than a “no-issues-please” contest
between George Bush and William Clinton.
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