Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Surging Buchanan: Shock Jock of Right

WASHINGTON -- The sassy sociological observers of late-night TV are having a ball with Patrick Buchanan.


David Letterman said Buchanan is "going to take a couple of days off after the New Hampshire primary and then invade Poland." Jay Leno said Buchanan's campaign was generating the most heat -- "It's mostly from burning books and crosses," he said, "but it's heat."


The more successful he is as a presidential candidate, the more Buchanan's brash rhetoric and simple prescriptions attract a level of name calling and criticism rarely seen in presidential politics. During his first campaign four years ago, Buchanan gleefully recounted that he had been called "an anti-semite, a homophobe, a racist, a sexist, a nativist, a protectionist, an isolationist and a beer-hall conservative." He answered then, "I am none of the above."


So what is this pundit turned politician who is driving a flying wedge through the Republican Party? "He's the Irish Catholic George Wallace, though he's less anti-black and more anti-Jewish than Wallace," said Leo Ribuffo, a historian of 20th century American politics at George Washington University. "The left-right spectrum doesn't really help us with Buchanan. And 'extremist' is a slur word, not a political term."


Supporters see Buchanan as someone who -- in the words of talk show host Oliver North -- stands up for the "overworked, underpaid, God-fearing, much-maligned, oft-criticized, rarely commended, unappreciated, sexually harassed, reverse-discriminated, censured, chastised, condemned and demeaned American hard-working family."


But even fellow conservatives have been troubled by Buchanan's views. Buchanan is a man who is "flirting with fascism" (former education secretary William Bennett), who is anti-semitic by temperament (William Buckley Jr.), and whose racial views could be summed up as "segregation forever" (Richard Nixon).


Buchanan has used words of the far right to oppose a never-defined "New World Order," to describe Congress as "Israeli-occupied territory," and to rally crowds by calling Michael New, the U.S. Army soldier who was court-martialed for refusing to wear United Nations colors in Macedonia, a "hero."


Buchanan dismisses reports of his most rip-roaring rhetoric as simply recitations of stories from his 30-year career as a newspaper editorialist, radio and television commentator and presidential speech writer. Yet he repeatedly says he stands by everything he's written.


That leaves him with a lot to defend: He once called Martin Luther King Jr. "immoral, evil and a demagogue." While working in the Nixon White House, Buchanan urged the president to "hold off" on integration, permitting communities "freedom of choice." In 1992, Buchanan traveled to Tupelo, Mississippi, to lay flowers on the grave of a slave-owning ancestor, bragging that his relations were "rabid secessionists."


Buchanan columns have admired dictators such as Francisco Franco of Spain and Augusto Pinochet of Chile as "soldier-patriots." He has criticized "the democratist temptation, the worship of democracy as a form of governance" and "the one-man, one-vote Earl Warren system."


Buchanan has asked, "Who speaks for the Euro-Americans?" Worrying that whites might soon be a minority in America, Buchanan wrote: "By the middle of the next century, the United States will have become a veritable Brazil of North America." He has called AIDS "a social disorder" and said that women were "simply not endowed by nature" with the tools to succeed in the workplace. Last year, Buchanan said "homosexuals have declared war upon nature" and "homosexuality, like other vices, is an assault upon the nature of the individual as God made him."


On the stump, Buchanan wins rousing cheers for his denunciations of Fortune 500 corporations, Wall Street bankers, and Washington's lobbyists. "Buchanan is the perfect post-Cold War candidate," said Jonathan Kahn, professor of history at Bard College in New York. "There's no more Soviet Union, so he's coming up with new enemies for us."


But the enemies are not altogether new. "His anti-big business, anti-immigrant stance is something that's been part of the American tradition for more than a century," Ribuffo said. "Remember: The America First movement founded in 1940 included John Kennedy, Gerald Ford and Sargent Shriver," he said, referring to the group that in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor lobbied to keep the United States out of World War II. "These movements attract a lot of decent people, with a fringe of kooks."


Those who have concluded that Buchanan is anti-semitic often say it appears in his rhetoric more than in specific positions. The butt of his one-liners are often Jewish and he often uses Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's name to symbolize a federal judiciary he believes abuses its power.


Buchanan is the only major party presidential candidate to be the subject of Anti-Defamation League reports, which said his politics are "defined by prejudice and rancor, if not outright hate." Buchanan called these reports an "orchestrated smear campaign."


Those who suspect Buchanan of anti-semitism start with his description of Hitler as "indeed racist and anti-semitic to the core. ... He was also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier ... a leader steeped in the history of Europe." Buchanan has said he was trying to explain Hitler's success, but critics called his rhetoric gratuitously generous.


Buchanan's former debating partner on CNN's "Crossfire," Michael Kinsley, has defended him over such allegations. "As a Jew," Kinsley has said, "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."


About the anti-semitic allegations, Buchanan said, "The doctor who monitored my heart before that surgery, my friends, was Jewish... . We've got rabbis on the board of our campaign. We've had Jewish friends our whole lives."


In a series of interviews, historians and political scientists -- none of them Buchanan supporters -- question Buchanan's place in the annals of populism. They regard him as a transitional figure who could push the Republican Party into a new alignment, a throwback to a 19th century politics made possible again by the end of the Cold War.


Historians say Buchanan fits into a pattern that Richard Hofstadter once called the "paranoid style" in American history.


"Buchanan is a harkening back to conservatism of the period before the Cold War," said John White, a political historian at Catholic University. "George Bush, Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan all worked for Richard Nixon, and what held them together was profound anti-communism. Without that, the party has really begun to fracture."