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View From The North
December 28, 2007

The Class Dynamics of Buchanan
In the 1992 Primaries

by Mark Wegierski

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 election.

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 as well.

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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