In the Machiavellian world of big-league politics, those with a proclivity for the cynical view might be forgiven if they smell a fix in the revelation by Pat Buchanan, a loyal conservative foot soldier of the Nixon and Reagan White Houses, that he most likely will challenge President Bush in the Republican primaries next year.
The ostensible reason for Buchanan's entry is to provide "a conservative alternative" to Bush, who is seen by True Believers as veering back toward his previous life as a moderate New England Republican.
Buchanan knows he has no chance of wresting the party nomination from a sitting president whose poll ratings have consistently remained extremely high, never mind the recent dip into the 50th percentile.
But consider this possibility: Buchanan enters the race not as an alternative to Bush but rather as an alternative to David Duke, the bad boy of Republican politics who, despite his decisive defeat in the Louisiana governor's race on Saturday, still is expected to run for president next year, tapping the politics of resentment much as Gov. George Wallace of Alabama did a generation ago.
By giving disaffected Republican voters an alternative, Buchanan could draw many votes that might otherwise go to Duke and thereby embarrass President Bush. But once he has served his purpose of splitting the Duke vote, Buchanan would return securely to the Republican fold in support of Bush.
Under the circumstances, the Buchanan candidacy begins to take on the aroma of a dish cooked in a Republican kitchen.