Candidate Buchanan Vows to 'Clean Up ... Our Culture'
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 3, 1999; Page A1
MANCHESTER, N.H., March 2Patrick J. Buchanan, who has run two proudly rebellious Republican presidential campaigns this decade, launched his third bid for the White House in typical style today, inveighing against economic globalism, the United Nations, immigration, affirmative action and abortion and calling for the return of moral leadership to the highest office in the land.
"It is our calling to recapture the independence and lost sovereignty of our republic, to clean up all that pollutes our culture and to heal the soul of America," he said at a hotel conference center here. "And, to that end, I declare my candidacy for president of the United States."
Last week, Buchanan, 60, resigned from his job as a political commentator at CNN and quickly assembled a skeletal operation befitting his reputation for slapdash campaigns that thrive on the force of his personality. Despite the hastiness of the effort to put together the event today, some 250 to 300 people turned out to encourage him with cheers of "go Pat, go!"
It was evident from the opening seconds of his 20-minute speech that Buchanan had no plans to soften his rhetoric or dilute the message that has won him a fierce following, and fierce opposition, during his years in politics dating back to speechwriter to President Richard M. Nixon in the '60s. The centerpiece of his message -- and what makes him stand out among his competitors for 2000 -- remains an economic nationalism that blames unfair trade practices for decimating the U.S. industrial and manufacturing base.
Yet even some of Buchanan's past supporters pondered whether time and opportunity had passed him by and whether a public buoyed by the best economy in decades would be as receptive to his message as in previous years of recession and recovery.
Mike Biundo, who was Buchanan's deputy campaign manager in New Hampshire in 1996 but is remaining neutral this time, said he was "not sure how his economic message is going to play out."
Buchanan, who spent Monday rallying blue-collar workers in West Virginia, however, was undeterred. "To those who call me a protectionist, I say without apology: I will use the trade laws of this country and my authority as president to protect the jobs of our workers, the standard of living of our American families, the independence of my country, and the sovereignty of the United States," he said to a cascade of cheers.
With his wife, Shelley, at his side, he ended with his familiar rhetorical call to arms: "As they say, mount up and ride to the sound of the guns!"
Buchanan, with his fiery populist message, first jolted Vice President Bush in 1992 with strong performances here and elsewhere. In 1996, this Washington insider shocked many people when he won the New Hampshire primary and the Louisiana caucus. He went on to about two dozen second-place finishes before former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole (Kan.) captured enough delegates to seal the nomination. Throughout the battle, Dole publicly branded Buchanan an "extremist" who would disgrace the GOP.
This year, Buchanan faces serious opposition for a base that has regularly given him one-fourth to one-third of the vote. GOP analysts say the entry of conservative activist Gary Bauer, New Hampshire Sen. Robert C. Smith and former vice president Dan Quayle could siphon support. Publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes has made an open run at Buchanan's constituency, courting religious conservatives and hiring many of Buchanan's top aides from 1996.
But Steve Duprey, chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, said Buchanan should not be underestimated. "He starts off as the automatic front-runner because he's run and won in New Hampshire before."
Republican consultant Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, agreed, calling his candidacy "formidable." Buchanan, he said, thrives on being underestimated by the national media and has a "niche message about sovereignty and nationalism that combines blue-collar populism with grass-roots conservatism. No one else out there can do that."
Still, neither Duprey nor Reed predict Buchanan will win. Both acknowledge that within the party there is a sense of pragmatic urgency wrought from consecutive presidential defeats. Conservatives and moderates appear eager to unite around the most viable candidates, which might negate Buchanan's protest appeal during crunch voting time.
When asked if Buchanan could win the nomination, the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, who runs the Traditional Values Coalition, put it this way: "At this time, no, I don't. I'm tired of losing. People have not rejected Republican conservatives' principles. They've rejected certain Republican candidates." He praised Buchanan as a good, principled conservative, but said his status as a two-time loser would doom him.
But Terry Jeffries, editor of the conservative magazine Human Events, argued Buchanan has an outside chance. Next year's accelerated primary schedule, which will bunch up states -- particularly in the industrial Midwest and South -- early on, favors Buchanan, he said.
"There's no doubt that he has the constituency among rank-and-file Republicans," said Jeffries, who worked on the previous campaigns. "He's an eloquent and powerful voice for issues that are of a primary importance to a lot of those voters."
Clearly, there is still a constituency for Buchanan's message. Random interviews here after his speech reinforced the fact that even among those who are doing well, anxiety remains about the economy.
"How can we compete with China when they are producing goods with slave labor? That's his point, and if you look at it logically, it makes sense," said Mike Barker, 50, a manufacturer from Manchester.
Buchanan found a receptive audience when he attacked the Clinton White House, saying, "This temple of our civilization has been desecrated, used to shake down corporate executives, to lie with abandon to the American people [and as] a place to exploit women. . . . It is time to call the curtain on the soap opera in the White House, time to restore a measure of dignity to our national stage."
In Buchanan's speech, which kicked off an 11-day, 13-city tour, he promised that as president he would build a national missile defense system and strengthen the military. He said he would remove troops from U.N. command and from places such as Bosnia and Kosovo.
He denounced bilingual education and affirmative action, and he called for "a moratorium on immigration and a national campaign of assimilation" to unify the country and ensure that immigrants get "their fair chance at the American dream."
Buchanan has benefited from high-profile media job at CNN, which has beamed his face into the homes of millions of Americans several times a week and kept him a familiar commodity between presidential campaigns. His job as a commentator on the network's "Crossfire" show in particular gives him a forum to broadcast his opinions, an arrangement that critics have derided as unfair.
Tonight, Buchanan will appear on CNN's "Late Edition" with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is preparing for a presidential bid of his own. CNN promoted the appearance throughout the day with a clip of McCain welcoming Buchanan to the race: "I am very pleased that Pat Buchanan is in the campaign because he is the most articulate spokesperson for the isolationist-protectionist wing of our party. That fight has to be made. That struggle has to be made again, just like it was made in 1996, because we as a party and we as a nation cannot go down the path of isolationism and protectionism. . . . I believe history is clearly on my side of the debate."
Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
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