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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moderates Turn Guns on Buchanan

TEMPE, Arizona -- Three Republican presidential hopefuls turned a debate into a lively brawl over the protectionist trade policies of a fourth, television commentator Patrick Buchanan. But the participants disdainfully mentioned only in passing an absent Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.


Former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander set the tone in his opening statement at the Thursday night debate, looking at Buchanan and declaring: "Pat, I'm not going let you hijack my party ... We need a rising, strong America, not a divided, pessimistic America.''


Buchanan, who appeared to relish the debate at Arizona State University, declared that the struggle for the Republican presidential nomination "is a battle for the heart and soul of our party'' that will determine whether the party will defend "working men and women of this country [who have been] betrayed by trade deals ... I'm only asking the GOP: Please keep the door open, I will bring these good people home.''


Magazine publisher Steve Forbes Jr., who initially seemed reluctant to take on Buchanan, became increasingly critical. "When you put politicians in charge of trade, you lose,'' Forbes told the packed auditorium. "Tariffs are one more form of taxes. I believe in free trade.''


The three were joined by Representative Bob Dornan who attempted, with little success, to set a conciliatory tone.


Dole declined to participate in the debate, angering local Republican leaders and his own supporters. The participants in the debate surprised everyone, however, by declining to capitalize on Dole's absence with sustained criticism.


Only Alexander noted that "Senator Dole should be here tonight if he wants to be the Republican nominee.'' No one else mentioned Dole.


The debate appeared to benefit both Buchanan and Alexander. For Buchanan, the event demonstrated the extraordinary degree to which he has become the focus of attention after his victories in New Hampshire and Louisiana. Many observers believe he has a good chance to win in Arizona, where the victor gets all 38 delegates to the Republican National Convention.


Alexander sought to stake out the role of Republican alternative to Buchanan, repeatedly denouncing what he called "Buchananism." Alexander contended that Buchanan's policies violated Republican free trade policies, including those of Buchanan's former boss, Ronald Reagan.


Buchanan was asked about his proposal to put up a fence on the nation's southern border to end illegal immigration. "I will stop the illegal immigration from the southern border of this country cold,'' Buchanan declared, arguing that the fence would cover only 200 of the 2,000 miles of border.


Alexander sought local appeal in his critique of Buchanan, noting that Mexico is a prime trading partner in Arizona.


The candidates also sparred over proposals for a flat tax, with Forbes criticizing the moderator for framing a question on flat taxes in a way "typical of the liberal media'' and for saying Forbes's proposed 17 percent flat tax would "remove millions of [low-income] people from the tax rolls.''


Defending his exemption of capital gains and investment taxes, Forbes said, "All income is taxed.''


When Alexander said he would reduce taxes on capital gains and estates and lower the number of deductions currently in the tax code, Forbes drew cheers when he denigrated "that kind of wishy-washy approach.''