I got a call from a Washington-based journalist the other day who wanted to know if Pat Buchanan had any influence on the platform of our current President.
What a question! The guy sounded fairly young—at least, younger than me—so he doesn’t remember. Yes, but aren’t there books, articles, easily accessible on the internet? Has history been erased? Well, perhaps it has when it comes to Buchanan, whose disappearance from television was the result of a left-wing hate campaign, and whose exile from the op-ed pages of the nation’s newspapers, where his syndicated column used to appear, occurred when he took up the cudgels on behalf of “America First.”
Ah, yes, “America First”: Surely that slogan rings a bell.
It was the summer of 1990, and our coterie of libertarians was in a funk. Having just left the collection of sectarians and would-be opportunists that make up the so-called Libertarian Party and set up our own little outfit, dubbed the Libertarian Republican Organizing Committee (LROC), we morosely pondered our next step. While we had all the accoutrements of what looked to be a real movement—local chapters, a monthly magazine, a national headquarters—we were sadly lacking the one element that makes a political faction meaningful: candidates! No one, it seemed, fit the bill, particularly when it came to the one issue we consistently emphasized: a noninterventionist foreign policy. And this was a living issue at the time because the war drums were already beating, the drummers being the neoconservatives, who were busy ginning up the Gulf War.
The Berlin Wall had fallen the previous year, and we were beginning to make significant inroads in our quest to infiltrate the GOP and create a grassroots libertarian Republican movement, as Ron Paul would do several years later. We were, in effect, premature Paulians, but Ron, having just run for president under the Libertarian Party banner, had yet to launch his movement and was taking a well-deserved rest from the campaign trail. We were left to contemplate the words of Garet Garrett, that pessimistic prophet of the Old Right, who wrote at the end of Rise of Empire, his 1953 panegyric to our old republic, “No doubt the people know they can have their Republic back if they want it enough to fight for it and to pay the price. The only point is that no leader has yet appeared with the courage to make them choose.”
A movement with no one to lead it: That was our parlous condition. But not for long. For even as the war cries got louder and the War Party mobilized its Myrmidons for the final assault, Pat Buchanan’s eloquent voice was raised against the din. While on the right and the left there was veritable unanimity, Buchanan stood virtually alone against the howling mob of interventionists. Oh, the outcry when he dared speak truth to power concerning the Israel lobby: “There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East—the Israeli defense ministry and its ‘amen corner’ in the United States.” Not only that, but Buchanan had begun to articulate a comprehensive critique of the globalist foreign policy that both parties had proffered since the end of World War II.
We had found our candidate! We printed up literature and announced the formation of the Buchanan in ’92 Committee. We published his fax number so our people could urge him to run.
Not that we expected him to run: It was a cynical maneuver on our part, a way to recruit GOP activists into LROC and give our own activists something to do. After all, why would someone with a lucrative career as a television commentator and newspaper columnist give all of that up to run against a sitting Republican president?
Well, there we were at the California GOP convention, the weekend the Gulf War started, sitting behind our literature table. Stocked with lots of impressive-looking Buchanan for President literature and adorned with a giant picture of our candidate, we watched from the gallery as the delegates cheered George Herbert Walker Bush proclaiming his “New World Order,” and the news anchors were announcing the commencement of the war. Up in the gallery, though, the young people were restively disdaining this New World Order, and they gathered around our table, a clot of youthful dissent in a sea of geriatric warmongering.
And then suddenly I saw her, looking at us from across the room: Bay Buchanan, Pat’s sister. She came up to us and said, “Hey, you guys are great!”
I replied, “Well, yes, we are—but we need your brother to run for president.” After much back and forth, Bay promised she would bring that message back to Pat.
Months passed, with no word from either Bay or Pat. So we quietly approached Ron Paul, then a member of Congress, and asked him to step into the breach. He agreed. And then what we thought was impossible actually happened: Buchanan announced he was running! We were floored—and overjoyed. I can’t take credit for Buchanan’s amazingly successful 1992 campaign, where he beat “King George” in New Hampshire and—despite the vituperation of the media and political elites—blazed a path across the country that shook the GOP to its very foundations. But perhaps our pre-campaign on his behalf encouraged him to enter the fray.
It was the beginning of a larger movement, one that would culminate in a very unlikely victory. For one can draw a straight line between Buchanan’s three campaigns for the presidency and Trump’s triumph: the same themes, the same slogan—and the same nationalist message.
Before Trump’s wall, there was Buchanan’s wall. Before Trump uttered the words “America First,” Pat had made it his campaign theme. Before Trump challenged our globalist foreign and trade policies, Pat brought the same message—albeit more articulately expressed—to the factory workers, the ordinary folks, the forgotten men and women whom no country-club Republican had ever reached.
Buchanan was ahead of his time, and it was left to Trump to catch the right moment; but there is continuity.
Regularly emitting a series of books on foreign policy, immigration, and, more recently, his account of the Nixon years, Buchanan has influenced the development of the conservative movement—and the direction of American politics—to an extent that is woefully underappreciated. It’s especially disgraceful that neither Trump nor any of the Trump bigwigs has, to my knowledge, given Buchanan the honor he is due.
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