Pat Buchanan—political pundit and three-time presidential candidate—announced he is retiring from writing. Buchanan hasn’t been as much in the spotlight in recent years, but those of a certain age can remember when he was almost as big of a political player as Donald Trump. And in fact, he was Trump before Trump (and a lot better, too!)
Buchanan first hit the political scene working in the Nixon White House in the early 1970’s as President Nixon’s assistant and speech writer. While this might seem a low-level job, Buchanan had a great impact on Nixon’s presidency and the Republican Party in general. It was Buchanan, for example, who came up with the phrase “silent majority” that helped bring many Democrats to the Republican fold.
After Nixon left office Buchanan launched a highly successful career as a political pundit, hosting or contributing to various radio and TV shows. There was a time when any political show worth its salt would have to include Buchanan either in their lineup or as a regular guest. He spent two years in the mid-80’s working for the Reagan White House, but in the early 1990’s he decided to run for office himself…and boy, did he make a grand entrance.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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In response to President Bush (the elder) reneging on his promise of “no new taxes,” Buchanan launched his own campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992. At first this seemed a quixotic campaign: what Republican would vote for a TV commentator against an incumbent President? But Buchanan’s campaign gained serious momentum, and he had a strong showing in the New Hampshire primaries, forcing Bush to move to the right to compensate.
Buchanan ran again in 1996, and this time he won the New Hampshire primaries against the favorite, the incredibly bland and boring Bob Dole. At one point it looked like Buchanan had a serious chance to grab the nomination, but Dole’s establishment political machine eventually prevailed, steamrolling Buchanan on Super Tuesday.
In 2000 Buchanan ran once more, this time securing the nomination of the Reform Party (Ross Perot’s party). He garnered few votes in the national election, and his days of running for office ended as he returned to full-time punditry.
What made this former speech writer so popular in the 1990’s? In a sense, he was the “anti-Bush.” George H.W. Bush was the perfect representation of the “country club Republicans,” the rich, white men who wanted to control world affairs from the White House and cared little for the “little guy.”
However, with an influx of working-class voters into the party during the Reagan years, many Republicans felt distant from that brand of conservatism. In addition, as the Democratic Party moved more and more to the radical Left (a movement that still hasn’t slowed down), its working-class voters also felt alienated and saw Buchanan as a possible alternative.
If this sounds familiar, it should, because it’s essentially the model used even more successfully by Donald Trump in 2016. Trump, whether intentionally or unintentionally, often imitated Buchanan. Trump’s hesitation about foreign interventionism reflected Buchanan’s own foreign policy views. His support for tariffs and emphasis on helping working-class people also emulated Buchanan’s campaigns.
Buchanan, of course, is far better than Trump, both as a person and a candidate. He is extremely intelligent, understanding complex issues and with an ability to explain them to non-experts. Further, he is a faithful Catholic who strongly believes—and practices—what the Church teaches. A Catholic could be forgiven for dreaming what the country would be like if Buchanan and not Trump had been the one to achieve the presidency.
Personally, I rank Pat Buchanan up there with Ron Paul as my favorite modern politicians. Buchanan was fearless, saying the most controversial things (he wrote a whole book attacking Winston Churchill!) without worrying about how it might impact him in the polls. He was also willing to change his views after careful consideration. He began his career as a foreign policy hawk, parroting the neocon narrative about the need for American interventionism, but eventually he recognized the folly of those views and became one of the country’s leading advocates for peace and non-interventionism.
In recent years, mostly due to Trump’s influence, the Republican Party is starting to catch up to Buchanan’s views, and it couldn’t come soon enough. Although Buchanan is retiring from public writing, it’s my hope that the next generation of conservatives look to Pat Buchanan (and not Trump) as a model for the future of the movement.