Washington NOW THAT Pat Buchanan and David Duke have come out swinging as conservative rebels who'll challenge George Bush in the Republican primary, confused voters wonder, "Which is which? What's the difference between them?"
Glad you asked, Confused Voters.
Pat Buchanan is the burly, pugnacious Irishman. Looks like a bartender in a city taproom. Gets mad quickly. Sometimes flashes a wicked grin. Talks like a right-wing editorial writer, which he once was.
David Duke is the skinny, blond guy with the cosmetically redesigned nose. Looks like a steward on a Caribbean cruise ship. Wears a nervous smile while talking like a Ku Klux Klansman, which he once was.
Let's see, what else?
Buchanan's fame was made entirely as a talk-show gabber -- McLaughlin's show, CNN's "Capital Gang" and "Crossfire." Duke makes his living and celebrityhood as a professional candidate -- senator, governor, now the Big House.
Still baffled? Maybe Buchanan can straighten us out . . .
"I'm a Catholic, a conservative, a traditionalist. I am Goldwater, nine years with Richard Milhous Nixon, 15 years a Reaganite. David Duke comes out of a different tradition, to put it mildly," he said on ABC's David Brinkley show.
He means Duke was a KKK wizard and Nazi sympathizer. This youthful sordidness overshadows Buchanan's past as a Nixon speechwriter.
In truth, Confused Voter, it's tricky to tell the difference between Pat and the Dukester. To show how similar they sound, try a pop quiz.
In the following blind quotes, who said what, Duke or Buchanan?
* On stopping hordes of immigrants from America's borders:
Candidate A: "I think we're unraveling. This country is overwhelmingly of European descent, overwhelmingly Christian. Our values are being torn apart by massive immigration."
Candidate B: "I think God made all people good, but if we had to take a million immigrants in next year, say Zulus or Englishmen, and put them in Virginia, which group would be easier to assimilate and cause less problems . . . ?
* On "America First," isolating the country's problems:
Candidate A: "It's time we take an 'America First' position. Japan and Europe are our trading competitors. It's time they pay their own way. We've got to be more concerned with stopping criminals on our streets than stopping dictators."
Candidate B: "Why, 46 years after the end of World War II, are we defending Japan and Germany when they're stealing our markets? Why are we pacifying the Persian Gulf when a woman in Central Park is slashed to death by bums?"
* On Bush and racial quotas:
Candidate A: "I believe strongly George Bush sold out the Republican party when he signed the so-called Civil Rights Bill. It was a quota bill a year ago, and it was a quota bill when he signed it."
Candidate B: "George Bush walked away from the conservative base of his own party . . . He said he wouldn't sign a quota bill but he signed it."
The envelope, please.
Every quote by Candidate A was from the mouth of David Duke. Every quote from Candidate B was a Pat Buchanan utterance.
No wonder voters are confused about Bush's right-wing renegades.
It's understandable why Buchanan, who's spent years as White House speechwriter, TV show babbler and columnist honing his ideology, is irritated that Duke is parroting his lines.
"I'm not going to walk away from my views simply because Duke takes them," Buchanan said crankily on ABC.
Duke, though, feels positively chummy toward Buchanan. "I think Pat Buchanan is a fine candidate," says Duke. He suggests they work different sides of the street, north and south. Duke's so tuned into Pat's vibes, he hints he'll throw his support to Buchanan at the Houston convention.
OK, Confused Voter, let's apply the Bush Test.
Bush badmouths Duke as the villain in the Black Hat -- an "insincere charlatan." Bush's Republican honchos treat Duke like the carrier of an unsavory disease. "He can't get an ice cream cone at the RNC (Republican National Committee)," Bush spokesman Marlin Fitzwater sneered at Duke.
But to Bush, Buchanan is a mischievous kid on a Halloween prank. "I know Pat. He's no racist or bigot," said Bush fondly.
Maybe Bush shrugs off Buchanan as a one-state threat. Buchanan's vow -- "I'm going all the way to the nomination" -- draws White House chuckles. That nonchalance could change if Pat gigs Bush by getting, say, 25 percent in New Hampshire.
Duke, though, is a racist horror show to Republicans. He may have funds and firepower to embarrass Bush through a string of Southern primaries.
Sorry, Confused Voter. There's no easy way to disentangle Bush's Evil Twins.
If Duke and Buchanan debated, would they sound like a right-wing chorus in stereo?
Maybe, as a politician said 20 years ago, "There's not a dime's worth of difference in a truckload of 'em."
That was George Wallace. Funny his name comes to mind.
Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.