Pat Buchanan’s October 25 announcement that he would seek the presidential nomination of the Reform Party was greeted with contempt by Republican commentators. After all, Buchanan has twice failed to capture the Republican nomination, and in his third time out, he barely registered in the polls. His moment had passed, they argued, or perhaps he’d never had one; and this latest move was only about Pat’s ego—oh, and maybe the $12.5 million in federal matching funds that the Reform Party will receive in 2000. And yet. . .

“Go, Pat, Go!” screamed the crowds that gathered at Buchanan campaign stops from Minnesota to Louisiana, from New York City to Macomb County, Michigan. The local press in each town has been stunned. Buchanan has been “mobbed” by “hundreds of supporters”—many former Republicans, almost as many former Democrats—and enthusiastically embraced by state and local Reform Party officials (and not a few national ones—former Reform vice presidential candidate Pat Choate is co-chairing Buchanan’s campaign, and Matt Sawyer, an expert in election law who served as house counsel to Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, is performing the same function for Pat). In Louisiana, the state Reform Party chairman reported that the number of registered Reform Party members in die Bayou State doubled in the two weeks after Buchanan’s announcement. In Macomb County, home to the country’s largest concentration of “Reagan Democrats” (most of whom have returned to the party of the jackass for the past two presidential elections), the message was clear: Pat could have brought the Reagan Democrats back into the Republican fold; now, the majority intend to follow him to the Reform Party.

Political scientists have noted that the rise of any significant new political party is always preceded by a period of “dealignment,” of dissatisfaction with the dominant parties. Here in Winnebago County, Illinois, two Republican officeholders recently commissioned a poll which asked voters, among other things, to state their party affiliation. Over 40 percent replied “independent”; neither the Democrats nor the Republicans broke 25 percent. Does this mean Winnebago County is a hotbed of Buchananism? No. But it does indicate a broad-based discontent with the “two party system,” a discontent which, for the foreseeable future, only Pat Buchanan is in a position to exploit.

Still, Pat has an uphill battle even to match Ross Perot’s vote totals in 1992. Turning out crowds at campaign stops is one thing; turning out voters in a general election is quite another. Of course, Buchanan does have some advantages that Perot did not. The Reform Party will almost certainly be on the ballot in every state, which will make it hard (though not impossible) for the Presidential Debate Commission to justify excluding Buchanan, as it did Perot in 1996. Buchanan won’t be running against an incumbent president, as Perot has both times. Even accepting federal matching funds—and the spending limitations that go with them—may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. As both Perot and Steve Forbes have proved, money doesn’t necessarily translate into votes. But every disaffected Democrat or Republican who sends Pat five dollars will almost certainly vote for him come November. The more broad-based Buchanan’s fundraising efforts, and the smaller his average contribution, the greater his electoral base.

We’ve always argued here at Chronicles that there are no political solutions to cultural problems. Even a rigorous system of tariffs, for instance, wouldn’t address the cultural problem of free trade: that Americans think of themselves as consumers first, and as members of local communities, states, and a nation second, or not at all. But a vigorous and viable Buchanan campaign (or even—commit the thoughtcrime —a Buchanan presidency) could prove more of a cultural force than a political one, refocusing public debate from narrow policy issues and personality politics to the broader questions that must be addressed if our nation is to survive: preserving national sovereignty, renouncing our foreign adventurism, limiting immigration, protecting what’s left of our industrial base, returning power to states and local communities, curtailing the tvranny of the federal government, restoring the Constitution of the Framers.

The Old Republic was laid to rest at Appomattox Court House; the Northeastern-based commercial republic that took its place perished in the Great Depression and New Deal; today, the middle-class. Middle American industrial democracy that has characterized postwar America is crumbling. Unless we stop the transformation now, it won’t be much longer before America—in any of its historic forms-ceases to be a nation. If not now, when? If not Pat, who? Go, Pat, go.