Pat Buchanan: The Thinking Man’s Principled Conservative
By: Sam Jacobs
Pat Buchanan continues to be a conservative icon for generations in the United States, holding the line on conservative issues at a time when conventional wisdom said that it was time to give up the ship. While many on the right hate the very idea of journalism today, Pat Buchanan is a journalist through and through – he received his training in journalism and continues to work in it to this very day.
The Formative Years of Pat Buchanan
Buchanan was born in Washington, DC, to an accountant and a homemaker. He was one of nine children in a devout Catholic family and attended Jesuit-run Gonzaga College High School. Following high school, he attended Georgetown University where he was active in the ROTC. He was drafted upon graduation in 1960, but the military declared him 4-F due to reactive arthritis. He continued his education at Columbia University and graduated with a master’s in journalism in 1962. His thesis later landed him a job at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, where he remained for many years.
In 1964, he was promoted to assistant editor of the editorial page. This was also the year that he worked on Barry Goldwater’s ill-fated Presidential campaign. He was an active member of Young Americans for Freedom, which was formed to provide youth support for the Goldwater campaign. Buchanan wrote many press releases for this organization.
Pat Buchanan: The White House Years
The year 1966 was a transformative year for Buchanan, as he was hired by the Presidential campaign of Richard Nixon as an opposition researcher and speechwriter. Buchanan’s speeches tended to be “red meat” for the most hardcore supporters of Nixon, leading his colleagues to nickname him “Mr. Inside.” He was also a constant travel companion of Nixon on the campaign trail. It was during this period that Buchanan coined a phrase that would be almost synonymous with Richard Nixon – “Silent Majority.”
This phrase was part and parcel of crafting a strategy to attract Democratic voters to the Nixon campaign. While it is often repeated that the Nixon campaign employed a “Southern strategy” that directly appealed to segregationists and racists, this is simply not true. Buchanan addresses this in his book, The Greatest Comeback. The Nixon path to the White House sought votes from Northern Catholics and Southern Protestants, the latter of which included black voters. It is important to note that the Nixon campaign did little to court black voters as black voters, due to their comparatively small portion of the electorate.
Buchanan remained a Nixon loyalist until the end, despite the accusation that he was Deep Throat. Buchanan stayed on in the Ford Administration and was offered his choice of ambassadorships. He chose South Africa, but the offer was rescinded after his appointment was leaked to the press and became the center of controversy.
After parting ways with the Ford Administration, Buchanan turned to broadcast journalism. He was a co-host on a three-hour program with liberal commentator, Tom Braden, known as the Buchanan-Braden Program. This became the basis for the later and much more well-known TV series, Crossfire. He earned national attention with his regular appearances on The McLaughlin Group and The Capital Gang.
Buchanan returned to work in the White House under the Reagan Administration, where he served as White House Communications Director from February 1985 to March 1987. It was around this time that his sister began his Presidential aspirations, circulating “Buchanan for President” materials in 1986. Buchanan was unsure that he was interested in electoral politics and in 1988, bowed out to allow a clear playing field for Jack Kemp – a man whom he greatly admired at the time, but later became his rival and adversary.
Pat Buchanan Runs For President
In 1992, Buchanan launched a primary campaign against incumbent President George H.W. Bush, getting three million votes in the primary or 23 percent of the vote, including 38 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. Buchanan ran on issues that will be well familiar to Trumpist Republicans today: anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism, anti-abortion, and social conservatism.
As part of a deal to ensure his support in the general election, Buchanan was given a prime time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention where he delivered his infamous “culture war speech.” Much derided by the press at the time, the speech would be well at home in the Republican Party of today and was very much ahead of its time. After Bush’s defeat, he returned to journalism before his 1996 Presidential campaign.
The 1996 Presidential campaign was arguably the highlight of Buchanan’s political career. The time was considered ripe for a Buchanan campaign, with former President Bush bowing out and presumptive front-runner Bob Dole largely seen as a weak candidate. Among the issues championed by Buchanan was a fierce opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which even then was destroying the American manufacturing base.
Buchanan had a strong showing in the primaries, nearly defeating Dole in the Iowa caucuses and winning the crucial New Hampshire primary, as well as Alaska, Missouri, and Louisiana. His campaign came to an end on Super Tuesday, with Dole winning handily. Buchanan said that if Dole chose a pro-choice running mate that he would run as a third party candidate on the U.S. Taxpayers’ Party (now the Constitution Party), which was tailor-made for a third-party Buchanan bid. When Jack Kemp was selected as Dole’s running mate, Buchanan endorsed the ticket.
Buchanan made a third bid for the presidency in 2000, which did considerably worse than his 1996 efforts. He ran for the Reform Party nomination, which largely became a battle for the resources of the Party after it had been abandoned by Ross Perot.
In 2002, Pat Buchanan founded The American Conservative magazine with long-time ally Taki Theodoracopulos, as a means to criticize President George W. Bush from the right, particularly about the Iraq War.
Pat Buchanan always held the line on conservative issues and defended the interests of the American worker and family. For Buchanan, conservatism was never a euphemism for what was good for Wall Street, Big Business or the military-industrial complex. It was always what was good for and what matched the values of the American worker and his family. This is what earned him the ire of both the left and the “conservative” insiders whose whole raison d’etre is losing with grace while raking in the donations.
His influence is evident in the political movement that elected Donald Trump as President, and his stamp is likewise seen in conservative firebrands like Ann Coulter. For decades when the conventional wisdom was that the conservative movement needed to compromise, Pat Buchanan simply said “no.”
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