IFAS | Freedom Writer | April 1996 | ontheroad.html

On the road with Pat Buchanan

By Adele M. Stan

"We are on the verge of taking back our country as prelude to taking back the destiny of America," bellowed Patrick J. Buchanan at the victory celebration for his win in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary. "And when we get there, my friends, we will only be obedient to one sovereign in America, and that is the sovereign of God Himself."

Unwilling to simply savor his one-point victory over Senate majority leader Robert Dole, the GOP's anointed front-runner, Buchanan then warned his troops to expect the worst from party leaders. "All the forces of the old order are gonna rally against us...," he said ominously. "And I'm tellin' the folks out in the country, they're gonna come after this campaign with everything they've got. Do not wait for orders from headquarters; mount up, everybody, and ride." And with that, Pat Buchanan, the former commentator, speechwriter, and current dark horse contender for the Republican nomination, declared war on his own party.

The next day, Buchanan suggested that he could take his share of the GOP's religious radicals, gun enthusiasts, and cultural purists out of the Republican tent, perhaps to support a Buchanan third-party run. "I can't bring my people back to the Republican party if their leader is under attack," he snapped in response to the charges of his rival, Senate majority leader Robert Dole, that Buchanan's us-versus-them worldview was too extreme for a man who would be the standard-bearer of the party of Lincoln.

Though a long shot for the nomination, Buchanan doesn't need to win the top spot in order to alter the course of American political history. If he continues to finish strongly in states that are not winner-take-all, by the time of the Republican National Convention in San Diego this August, Buchanan will have enough delegates to buy himself tremendous influence over the party platform and the selection of a vice presidential nominee. With a weak front-runner who is up against a raft of negative advertising by millionaire Malcolm "Steve" Forbes Jr., the quixotic presidential hopeful, coupled with polls showing a high level of voter ambivalence, the Republican Party is in no position to call Buchanan's bluff; it can't afford to lose Buchanan's brigades of zealous volunteers and motivated voters if it hopes to take the White House back from Bill Clinton.

For Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, that scenario was apparently too awful to contemplate. Though he appears to be supporting Bob Dole, Reed is too savvy a political operator to underestimate the threat posed by the pundit provocateur, and the specter of a Buchanan third-party insurgency led him to publicly urge Dole to can his attacks on Buchanan, according to Fred Barnes, editor of the Weekly Standard, a conservative journal.

When the attacks eased up, Buchanan found another reason to threaten to bolt abortion, especially if an attempt is made to eliminate the anti-abortion plank of the party platform in San Diego. "Bob Dole is not gonna stand up and fight Pat Buchanan to take that out of the platform now with our enormous support, otherwise, there would be a walk-out at the convention," Buchanan told Tina Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press." "He would split the party. You would probably have embryonic right-to-life parties all over America."

What Buchanan wasn't saying, but what party leaders no doubt know, is that those "embryonic" parties already exist as state affiliates of Howard Phillips' United States Taxpayer Party, which is planning to hold its national convention in San Diego, starting the day before the Republicans close their shop. Phillips, a former colleague of Buchanan's from their days in the Nixon White House and one of the creators of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, is currently working to get ballot lines for his party in all 50 states; in '92 he managed to do it in 21.

Phillips has already expressed his desire to pick up Buchanan as his candidate. If granted the GOP nomination, Buchanan has said that he would still seek the nomination of Phillips' party, along with Ross Perot's, which Buchanan says belong "in an enlarged Republican Party." But if Buchanan wanted to walk his delegates out of the Republican convention, they'd only have to saunter a few blocks if they want to throw in all the way with Phillips, who sent Randall Terry, founder of the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, on an 18-city organizing tour for the Taxpayers Party last summer.

Last year, Howard Phillips suggested in his "Issues and Strategies Bulletin" that Buchanan prepare for a third-party run by thinking about taking on a wealthy running mate who could spend his personal wealth on a campaign. Buchanan put together a panel of wealthy advisors and donors to right-wing causes that includes W. Grover Coors of the beer-brewing family; Thomas Monaghan, chairman and CEO of Domino's Pizza; and Roger Milliken, a textiles magnate and longtime member of the John Birch Society who, according to The New York Times, has already supplied the Buchanan effort with $1.8 million in donations to the political arm of Buchanan's foundation, American Cause.

When asked about the role of these advisors, the candidate's sister and campaign manager, Angela "Bay" Buchanan, explained, "Well, they have helped us raise money. Occasionally they'll call us and give us some advice. We talk to them about different things, especially if it's in their states. But they are not active, daily members of the effort." The Times calls Milliken "one of the leaders of the Buchanan campaign."

By staying in the GOP but threatening to go, Buchanan effectively keeps party leaders bowing to the right, though the party's strength actually lies somewhere in the political middle. With his no-exceptions anti-abortion stance and promises to return God to the public schools, Buchanan's presence on the Republican presidential landscape has already shown up fissures in the Christian right, where purists such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Ph.D., have taken issue with Ralph Reed's apparent willingness to compromise on a candidate like Dole, whose "right-to-life" record is less than perfect by the standards of right-wing religious leaders.

Early in his campaign, Buchanan appointed Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Familiy Association of Tupelo, Mississippi, national co-chair of his campaign. Wildmon first rose to national prominence as the Christian right's point man in the war against the National Endowment for the Arts. The day after his big win in New Hampshire, Buchanan secured the endorsement of Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum, an organization closely allied with the Christian right.

Whether he stays with the Grand Old Party or goes, Buchanan's impact on the national debate over such emotional issues as school prayer, abortion and race will far outlast the 1996 presidential contest, as he shatters each constituency to which he appeals, picking up the shards most useful to him in a political game that gives new meaning to the phrase "cut and run."

The untold story of Pat Buchanan's success in the early contests for the Republican nomination has been his challenge to the leadership of the Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed, whose strategy for implementing the Coalition's theocratic agenda has hinged on the organization of grassroots activists trained to take over the infrastructure of the Republican Party at the local level, which he's done with alarming success in some 31 states. But while Reed appears to have taken up with Dole, his well-organized ground troops find themselves seduced by Buchanan's consistent anti-abortion message and railings against the U.N., the global economy and secular humanism, allowing the dark horse to pirate the machinery of Reed's own operation. Having lost control of a sizeable contingent of his own rank-and-file, Reed's carefully accrued power in what he's helped define as God's Own Party is at risk if it's discovered he can no longer deliver the votes he promises.

Perhaps the best illustration of the willingness of Buchananites to defy both Republican and Christian Coalition leadership rests with the fate of the eight delegates won by Texas Senator Phil Gramm in the Louisiana caucuses before he quit the race after his dismal nine-percent showing in Iowa. Though Gramm went on to endorse Dole, the Texan's embrace of the Senate majority leader had little effect on the delegates whom the Louisianans had elected to represent him at the Republican National Convention.

According to a memo to Pat Buchanan obtained by this writer for IFAS, Gramm's Louisiana delegates, led by Dan Perkins, the Christian Coalition's director for Louisiana's fifth Congressional district, met in a closed four-hour deliberation and unanimously opted to get behind Buchanan, deciding that, "to be more effective, each Congressional District Delegation would announce its commitment [to Buchanan] at separate times and places over the next few weeks," Perkins wrote. In the memo, he also said he'd be trying to convince Gramm delegates in other states to fall in behind Buchanan. (An additional nine Louisiana delegates were awarded to the winner of the state's Super Tuesday primary.)

At Buchanan campaign headquarters in a storefront abutting a Midas Muffler shop in Des Moines, self-described Christian Coalition activist Tom McMillan was hard at work two days before the caucuses, setting up a phone bank staffed by the 40 or so people he'd brought down from neighboring Michigan to get out the Iowa vote. Just blocks away, Michigan Christian Coalition organizer Marlene Elwell, who is widely credited with Christian Coalition president Pat Robertson's win in Iowa during the 1988 presidential caucuses, was toiling for Dole, along with top Coalition figures Steve Sheffler and Ione Dilley, who heads the Iowa Christian Coalition. Elwell had actually started out working for Buchanan in this contest, but later left the campaign. Tom McMillan and Marlene Elwell have worked together "on a whole bunch of things," according to Elwell, but McMillan took issue with Elwell's change of heart.

"I don't think that Dole is a pro-life candidate, quite frankly," McMillan explained. "He's voted for pro-abortion judges, he's supported fetal farming fetal tissue research and he said he'd take a pro-abortion vice president."

On February 12, the glee was palpable at the Holiday Inn where the Buchanan forces convened as the caucus results showed the former speechwriter hot on the heels of the Republican Party's anointed front-runner; Dole squeaked out a win with only 26 percent of the vote, while Buchanan took 23 percent. Over at the Dole victory party in the plush Hotel Fort Des Moines, the atmosphere was more subdued. There we found the Christian Coalition's Marlene Elwell, cup of wine in hand, and asked her to reflect on the results.

Elwell was quick to take credit for both Dole's win and Buchanan's second place, explaining that she "laid the foundation" for Buchanan's success. "Somebody just asked me how it felt to have two winners," she said with a smile. If Steve Forbes hadn't entered the race, she asserted, she would have stuck with Buchanan. "So our whole goal was to really stop Forbes. And we were successful in that." Indeed, Forbes made some waves when he accused the Christian Coalition of actively working against him in Iowa. "See, in the end," Elwell said, "I don't believe Pat Buchanan can be the nominee. And so, therefore, what you have to do is get behind a candidate that you feel can beat Bill Clinton, and that's really what this was about."

"You know, there's [sic] leaders across the country in different organizations who make decisions for different reasons," said the candidate's sister and campaign manager, Bay Buchanan, when asked at her brother's "victory party" in Des Moines about Elwell and other Coalition leaders lining up behind Dole. "I'm not gonna sit here and explain it. But I know that the grassroots organizations that they represent are now moving in large numbers to Pat Buchanan. That's how you win elections not by a name or two, but by the people who get out and help you and vote for you, and that's what we've got. So, what the leaders are doing and why they're doing it, I don't need to have a lot of time to figure out. I just want to make sure that the people are comin' our way."

And they are. In Iowa, where the Christian right was believed to have accounted for 35 percent of the caucus vote, 42 percent of caucus-goers who voted for Buchanan identified themselves as members of the Religious Right, according to a survey by Voter News Service, as compared to 19 percent of Dole's.

Even in New Hampshire, where the Religious Right accounted for 15 percent of primary voters, Buchanan relied on local Christian Coalition activists like Shelly Uscinski to get out the vote. Uscinski, who conducts seminars for the Christian Coalition on how to win election to local office, is a Buchanan delegate and plans to attend the Republican National Convention. At Buchanan's victory party there, Paul Nagy, the Coalition's northeast regional director, played sax with the band.

Soon after Buchanan's New Hampshire triumph, his momentum with the less radical elements of his support began to dwindle as revelations of links between some of his campaign organizers and right-wing extremist figures and organizations such as David Duke and the Christian Identity movement sank into the public consciousness. When he suffered a defeat in South Carolina, where he expected to do well because of support from the Christian right and rhetoric calculated to appeal to segregationists, he complained bitterly to Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the Christian Coalition leadership had "moved en masse behind Bob Dole," despite the fact that Dole's pro-life record was less than pure.

The Christian right, from which Pat Buchanan draws a sizeable chunk of his support, is largely the creation of three key figures from the old "New Right" of the Reagan era Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation; Richard Viguerie, the direct-mail wizard and message maven responsible for the success of numerous right-wing candidates and ventures; and Howard Phillips, founder of the Conservative Caucus and the United States Taxpayers Party. The three remain in close touch, according to Viguerie.

As anti-abortion zealot Howard Phillips holds the threat of a third-party Buchanan run over the heads of party leaders, Paul Weyrich has remained out of the public eye during the race, except for his appearance at a press conference by right-wing leaders last winter that was designed to scare Gen. Colin Powell, a pro-choice, self-described Rockefeller Republican, out of running. (Shortly after the press conference, Powell bowed out of the running.) Weyrich remains, however, a close adviser to Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition.

Richard Viguerie, meanwhile, has dropped hints of an alliance with Steve Forbes, though he makes it a policy not to discuss current clients. Last summer, before anybody knew who Forbes was, Viguerie predicted Forbes' entrance into the race, saying "I think by January 1, he could be ahead of Gramm, and in second place." Which is exactly what happened, although, of course the lead didn't hold. Viguerie explained that there were two bases "available to the Republicans that are going unspoken for." One, he explained, consists of the "social conservatives," a.k.a. the Christian right, and the other is the economic supply-siders. "So, Forbes will come in on that side," he said.

Forbes' insistence on staying in the race, outspending all opposition, is widely regarded as a problem for Dole and a boon for Buchanan. Forbes' style of televisions ads attacking Dole seems to be derived from the campaigns of right-wing Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a long-time client of Richard Viguerie. At Forbes' side at nearly every campaign stop has been retired New Hampshire Senator Gordon Humphrey, a former airline pilot who was catapulted onto the political stage via the efforts of Viguerie and Phillips.

While Forbes keeps Dole's support soft with his blitz of attack-ads, and Buchanan pushes the Republicans and their front-runner further to the right, it's hard not to wonder if the old boys of the New Right aren't about to finally have their way with the Grand Old Party, which they've been plotting to take over since they helped Barry Goldwater grab the 1964 nomination. At the rally against gay marriage in Des Moines, we asked Christian right figure Rev. Lou Sheldon about the possibility of a brokered Republican convention in San Diego next summer. "I don't think it will come to that," he said with a smile. "I think Dole will come to us."

On CBS's "Face the Nation" Buchanan said, "Let me tell you this. If Bob Dole tries to put a Rockefeller Republican in line for the presidency who is pro-choice on abortion, he's gonna have the fight of his life at his own convention...and I may be in the middle of the dust-up."

Strap on your six-guns, boys and girls; we're going to settle this thing in San Diego.

Adele M. Stan is a freelance journalist. Barry Morgan Thomas is an independent photojournalist. Stan and Thomas traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire to cover this story for Freedom Writer Magazine.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.