William Kristol sees no need for the Republican Establishment to succumb, in Pat Buchanan's phrase, to "terminal panic." A junior member of that Establishment, Kristol doesn't cower when the high-riding presidential contender thunders about terrified knights and barons of the GOP being chased into their castles by pitchfork-wielding peasants.
"Someone needs to stand up and defend the Establishment," says Kristol, a sometime strategist, party ideologist and the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine. "In the last couple of weeks, there's been too much pseudo-populism, almost too much concern and attention for, quote, the people -- that is, the people's will, their prejudices and their foolish opinions. And in a certain sense, we're all paying the price for that now. . . . After all, we conservatives are on the side of the lords and barons."
The Republican aristocracy, per Buchanan, is a well-heeled group of elected officials, lobbyists for multinational corporations, political operatives, spin doctors and the like -- a club supremely comfortable with power. But it has been violently rattled by the eruption of Buchanan's support in New Hampshire, where he won the venerated First Primary.
Never mind this unlikely front-runner's pre-campaign status as a wealthy Washington pundit, a Mercedes owner, an operative in two White Houses and an Establishmentarian if ever there was one. He achieved his victory Tuesday over the candidate who is arguably today's champion of the Establishment, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, with a decidedly un-Republican appeal to the economically disenfranchised and the internationally challenged -- the protectionists, isolationists and anti-immigrationists.
This has shaken "the old order," as Buchanan called the Establishment on primary night, and the old order, he warned his followers, "is going to rally against us. . . . You can hear them now. The fax machines and the phones are buzzing in Washington, D.C."
Buchanan is not far wrong, according to Tom Korologos, a principal in the powerhouse lobbying firm of Timmons & Co., and a staunch supporter of Dole.
"It's scary," says Korologos, a proud Establishmentarian. "That's all I keep hearing: It's scary. It's scary.' The leadership in the House and Senate is worried about its reelection prospects. The party that started off this great revolution is wondering, What's going to happen now?' "
"There's a sense of fear and determination," says Washington lawyer Deborah Steelman, an official in the Reagan and Bush administrations. She says she's especially troubled by what she sees as Buchanan's inward-looking nationalism. "This conservative isolationist message of Pat's has had roots in the party for over a half a century, but it's been pretty much absent since World War II. It has been latent at worst, and discredited at best, and nobody wants to see it revived. . . . This sort of back-turning message is worrisome."
An anonymous Republican Establishmentarian, who served high up in the Reagan and Bush administrations, has been maneuvered into silence by Buchanan's clever wiles. "There's a sense that people such as myself speaking out only adds fuel to the fire," says this person. "Then that can be used: See, here are the people I've been telling you about, the ones who are all out to wreck your lives, blah blah blah.' . . . It's just embarrassing if you really care about winning this thing. This has got to be the Democrats' best dream scenario."
"As far as the Establishment people I've been in touch with," says Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a Dole loyalist, "the consensus is we want a formidable challenger to Bill Clinton. We're moving in the direction of: Let's get this done right and not let Pat Buchanan mess it up.' "
With President Clinton cruising through the Democratic primaries unchallenged, it is all the more striking to hear Buchanan speaking happily of a mob with pitchforks descending on GOP-run Capitol Hill. In the plum days of Ronald Reagan, Republicans loved to talk of an 11th Commandment prohibiting intra-party nastiness. Laments former Tennessee senator Howard Baker, an Establishment archduke: "My friend Bob Strauss says, We taught you how to act like Democrats.' "
Kristol stoutly calls for a little more nobility: "The way in which conservatism has succeeded in a democracy is by learning how to incorporate populism, popular instincts and even prejudices into the message. If you're interested in politics, you don't blame other conservatives for adopting certain populist ways of speaking.
"But there will always be an Establishment in a system like ours. The task is to make it a decent Establishment, and not just pretend that the voice of the people is always right. . . . We at the Weekly Standard are pulling up the drawbridge against the peasants. I may need to get myself pitchfork insurance."
"We like to think we've been handing out the pitchforks in the last few years," says Tony Blankley, press secretary to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a onetime renegade who now finds himself at the tippy-top of Buchanan's hated Establishment.
Blankley says he has no comment about Buchanan, but then adds out of the blue, "I've been reading a history of Byzantium lately, and apparently Attila the Hun wore a uniform made out of the skins of field mice. They were sewn together -- very badly. That's an awful lot of field mice. I don't mention this for any reason. I just find it an arresting image."
In the past 48 hours, some members of the Establishment have scrambled -- like field mice -- to clothe the great Buchanan in equally unheroic garb. Their common theme is that no matter how well he does in the primaries to come, the man simply can't be nominated.
"People are more worried than they should be," says Indiana businessman Mitch Daniels, former political director to Reagan. "In the first place, Pat will not be the nominee."
"I don't see how that happens," agrees Senate Majority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.), another pillar of the Establishment. "In terms of him getting the money to get his message out, I think he's out of time."
"He's winning with approximately 25 percent of the Republican primary vote," says Margaret Tutwiler, aide-de-camp to former secretary of state and Bush campaign manager James A. Baker III. "And a great majority of the Republican Party, 75 percent, is voting against him."
"Nobody in the Establishment believes he's going to be the nominee," says lobbyist Ed Rogers, an informal adviser to Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour.
"I think Pat Buchanan has hit the ceiling," says lobbyist Ken Duberstein, who tried unsuccessfully to lure retired Gen. Colin Powell into the Republican race. "I think what the Republican Party needs to do is listen to the disaffected voters and address their concerns with sound policy and not with nowhere prescriptions."
Yesterday Buchanan upgraded his assessment of the Establishment's reaction from "panic" to "hysterical," saying in Arizona that the party's grand poobahs "are playing right into my hands."
"I think Pat's right -- there is a hysteria out there," said Establishmentarian Ken Khachigian, a friend of Buchanan's since they toiled side-by-side as speech writers in Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. "Basically what he's done is upset the conventional wisdom and made fools out of all those people who predicted he could never win anything."
Rogers says "the first 10 minutes of any meeting in this town involving major Republicans are committed to everybody's take on Pat Buchanan. It's, Whaddya think? Whaddya think?' The tone is not frantic. It's a tone of bewilderment." Rogers, a protege of the legendary Lee Atwater, warned that the crucial March 2 South Carolina primary presents a target-rich environment for a firebrand populist "who can mine the vein of angry textile workers."
For the moment, "the Lee Atwater rule that good gets better and bad gets worse is going to apply to Buchanan," Rogers says.
But in due course, he predicts, the flame will die out. "The Republican Party, particularly in the South, is very hierarchical. Southerners are respectful of authority."
Yesterday Buchanan lashed out at that hierarchy. "It is you who is risking the unity of the Republican Party in November -- not I," he said, according to the Associated Press. And the candidate picked up a word of encouragement from across the sea. He may not be the favorite of his own party leaders, but the head of the Russian nationalists is wild about him. "I congratulate you as a comrade and brother-in-arms in the struggle for national liberation," the notorious Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in his unsolicited message to Buchanan. CAPTION: The Weekly Standard's Kristol: "The task is to make it a decent Establishment, and not just pretend that the voice of the people is always right."