Key Republican and conservative leaders have initiated a full-scale assault on Patrick J. Buchanan in an effort to discredit the renegade candidate who fractured the GOP in 1992 and 1996 and now threatens to bolt to the Reform Party.

Presidential rivals John McCain and Elizabeth Dole, along with Steve Forbes's campaign manager, have declared that Buchanan has placed himself far outside the acceptable boundaries of American politics with the publication this week of his book, "A Republic, Not an Empire." The book questioned the timing of the entry of the United States into World War II and the nation's participation in the battle to defeat Adolf Hitler.

"I am appalled by Pat Buchanan's comments. I not only disagree strongly with his analysis of history, I believe his comments are grossly insensitive to those Americans who gave their lives and those veterans who fought and suffered greatly to preserve freedom in the world," Dole said in a statement.

Forbes's campaign manager, Bill Dal Col, described Buchanan's arguments as "outrageous." He said Buchanan's questioning of the U.S. entry into the war "is out of bounds. . . . We had an obligation to destroy the most evil man the world had known to date."

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who leads the GOP race in the polls and in fund-raising, declined yesterday to comment on the controversy over Buchanan's book.

For the past week, even as Buchanan has been openly flirting with the Reform Party, the book controversy has dominated every one of Buchanan's numerous appearances on television talk shows. In the book, Buchanan makes a complex argument that covers the history of U.S. foreign policy and offers an analysis about World War II that lends itself to inflammatory interpretation.

He argues that in the latter part of 1941, Hitler was preoccupied on the Russian front and did not represent a threat to the United States. He accuses President Franklin D. Roosevelt of deceitfully encouraging pro-war and anti-German sentiment. Buchanan implies, but does not explicitly state, that the United States could have avoided or postponed entry into the conflict. In addition, he strongly endorses the America First movement that opposed U.S. intervention in World War II.

"The America Firsters did not want to `isolate' America from the world; they wanted only to isolate America from the war," Buchanan wrote.

The mounting criticism clearly signals that Republicans and conservatives are convinced that Buchanan will leave the party he worked in and supported for more than 40 years, and they want to do whatever possible to undermine his appeal to GOP voters.

The attacks have gotten under the skin of the normally unflappable Buchanan. On NBC's "Today" yesterday morning, Buchanan bitterly attacked McCain, who on Wednesday became the first of the presidential contenders to condemn Buchanan for the book. Buchanan declared that McCain "said . . . I did not think that the war against Hitler and Tojo was a noble cause. That's a vicious and a damnable lie."

Buchanan, whose career as a politician and commentator has been dogged by accusations of antisemitism, Nazi sympathy and racism, said he was "astonished that John McCain would not come on this morning and face me."

The politicians' attacks on Buchanan come at the same time such conservative publications as the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and National Review are suggesting that he is not a legitimate conservative and that his views on trade, government intervention and immigration violate the tenets of open markets and the free flow of people, goods and ideas.

The National Review, for example, headlined its current cover story: "A Conservative No More: The Tribal Politics of Pat Buchanan."

Buchanan charged that these critics, especially William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, are "outraged . . . because they fear that Pat Buchanan may move to the Reform Party and take the conservative movement with him. When you see the cheap little shots they are delivering, you know, it may be time to build a new conservative movement and let these people go."

The Buchanan uproar has overshadowed almost all other developments in the GOP, but it is not clear whether it is damaging Buchanan within the Reform Party. Reform leaders who had voiced sympathy or support for Buchanan before the controversy contended that the dispute is a calculated Republican effort to portray Buchanan as a fringe candidate.

Jack Gargan, incoming Reform chairman who has said he could back Buchanan, dismissed the furor: "They'll grab onto anything. I let it go in one ear and out the other."

The Reform Party's 1996 vice presidential nominee, Pat Choate, who has endorsed Buchanan, called the controversy "amusing. It's all attacks from partisans and those who just want to knock Buchanan out. For Reformers, it means zippo. We've been through this before with Ross," he said, referring to criticism of Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996.

Buchanan's book has served to revive charges that he is antisemitic. Lonny Kaplan, of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said in a statement: "We strongly support the views of Republicans like Sen. John McCain that Mr. Buchanan's views have no place in the Republican Party. Frankly, they have no place in any party that considers itself mainstream."

Buchanan, as he has in the past, appeared to thrive on the escalating attacks.

He said he faces accusations of antisemitism because "I speak truth to power and because Pat Buchanan is probably the only leader in this country who will stand up to the Israeli lobby."

Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.

Buchanan: On the Record

"Less equipped psychologically to `stay the course' in the brawling areas of business, commerce, industry and the professions, women are physically unequipped to compete in the worlds of athletics and arms."

-- 1983 newspaper column

"Our civilization [is] superior to the others. And our culture is superior to other cultures ... because our religion is Christianity, and that is the truth that makes man free.

-- 1993 Christian Coalition speech,

as quoted by Gannett News Service

"Though Hitler was indeed racist and antisemitic to the core . . . he was also an individual of great courage . . . His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality, that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path."

-- 1977 newspaper column

"David Duke is busy stealing from me. I have a mind to go down there and sue that dude for intellectual property theft."

-- as quoted in the Manchester (N.H.)

Union Leader, Dec. 15, 1991