Campaigning across the South this week, Patrick J. Buchanan was asked almost everywhere if he would seek support from voters who might also be attracted to David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader from Louisiana who, like Buchanan, is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
Buchanan couched his answers carefully, dismissing Duke ("that gentleman") as an irrelevancy but never denouncing him. "We're going to go after every single vote we can get in Louisiana," he said, adding that those who voted against Duke in last fall's gubernatorial election were unlikely to vote for him.
Buchanan's equivocations about Duke raise an issue that has been only an undercurrent in the 1992 presidential campaign: Are Pat Buchanan's attitudes toward blacks, Jews, gays and immigrants similar to Duke's?
Buchanan emphatically denies any bigotry and argues that those who resurrect quotations from his old columns, newsletters and television commentaries to argue otherwise are "going into all this nonsense." In his speeches, Buchanan carefully commits himself to "equal justice under law" and says he is as opposed to discrimination against blacks as he is to "reverse discrimination" against whites.
But even as a candidate, Buchanan manages to provoke and raise new questions.
In Ellijay, Ga., this week, for example, Buchanan told a virtually all white crowd of about 1,000 that his home town of Washington, D.C., was a nice southern town "before all that crowd came rolling in and took it over."
Buchanan did not specify who came rolling in, though he did complain in a recent interview with the London Sunday Telegraph about his wife, Shelley, walking down Connecticut Avenue "and these guys were sitting on the corner playing bongo drums. I mean, this is the town I grew up in."
In a remark last December on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley," Buchanan expressed his views on immigration this way: "I think God made all people good, but if we had to take a million immigrants in, say Zulus, next year, or Englishmen, and put them in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate and would cause less problems for the people of Virginia?"
As for Duke himself, Buchanan has been far more positive than almost any other Republican spokesman. In an October 1991 column, he chided the national Republican Party -- and the national press -- for the way they treated Duke's positions on welfare, affirmative action and foreign aid.
"The national press calls these positions 'code words' for racism," Buchanan wrote, "but in the hard times in Louisiana, Duke's message comes across as middle class, meritocratic, populist and nationalist." Those are complimentary words in the Buchanan lexicon, since Buchanan uses them regularly to characterize his own views. And Buchanan once said of Duke that he was tempted to "sue that dude for intellectual property theft."
Buchanan has regularly come under criticism from Jewish groups for his many statements charging that Jews have undue influence on U.S. foreign policy.
In 1985 while serving as communications director in the Reagan White House, he enraged a group of Jewish leaders invited to discuss Reagan's controversial decision to visit a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, where Waffen SS officers are buried.
In an interview with journalist Gabe Pressman to be broadcast this Sunday on WNBC-TV in New York, writer Elie Wiesel, who was at the meeting, recalls: "The only one really defending the trip was Pat Buchanan, saying, 'We cannot give the perception of the president being subjected to Jewish pressure.' "
Last Sunday, on "This Week With David Brinkley," Buchanan emphatically denied another recollection of the meeting that he had told the Jewish leaders to "start acting like Americans first." But Edward J. Rollins, President Ronald Reagan's political director who also attended the meeting, said yesterday that Buchanan did say words along those lines that left the Jewish leaders angry.
"I don't remember that that was exactly what was said," Rollins said. "I know there was a heated exchange between them and Pat and that was an impression several of them had."
Buchanan has also regularly angered the gay community, frequently referring to gays as "sodomites" and once, in a December 1988 column, referring to them as "the pederast proletariat."
Whatever views he has expressed in print, Buchanan's personal charm has won him defenses from many who disagree with him, notably columnist Michael Kinsley, who was his liberal sparring partner on CNN's "Crossfire" before Buchanan announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination.
"As a Jew, I never felt any hostility from Buchanan on that score, never heard him make a disparaging remark about Jews, never noticed any difference in the way he treats Jews and non-Jews," Kinsley wrote earlier this month.
Buchanan has generally declined to comment further on his differences with American Jews. At the Georgia Capitol yesterday, Buchanan simply walked by a group of Jewish protesters without saying anything. "People have raised this issue before and I don't have anything to add to it," he said afterward.
Buchanan's views, especially on race, are clearly influenced by his oft-expressed nostalgia for the ordered world of the 1950s, especially in his beloved home town of Washington.
"One wonders what a secret ballot would show if the older people in the black community were asked: Are you better off now than you were 30 years ago?" he wrote in his autobiography, "Right From the Beginning." Buchanan added that in the late 1940s and early 1950s, "There were no politics to polarize us then, to magnify every slight. The 'Negroes' of Washington had their public schools, restaurants, bars, movie houses, playgrounds and churches; and we had ours."
Up to now, the Bush campaign has not made much direct use of Buchanan's voluminous writings. A new Bush ad that began airing last night marked the first formal use of a Buchanan quotation by the Bush campaign. The ad quotes a Buchanan column in which he said that women were "less equipped psychologically" to succeed in the workplace.
Asked in Georgia yesterday if he wanted to retract his statement about women, Buchanan insisted that he did not think women were inferior in the workplace. But he added that it was a fact that more women leave the workplace than men.
Wade Henderson, director of the Washington bureau of the NAACP, said of Buchanan that "in a lot of ways, he's like David Duke." But Henderson said the Bush campaign was having trouble taking Buchanan on directly. "The president will find difficulty in challenging the moral authority of Pat Buchanan to use the race issue because he has walked a similar path himself," Henderson said.
Staff writer William Booth in Georgia contributed to this report.