WASHINGTON -- For Republican presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan, this was the home crowd.
Although not unified in their support of this challenger from the right, the group of like-minded conservative leaders who gathered here yesterday gave Mr. Buchanan a hero's welcome along with hearty support for his right-wing ideology and his one-two punches at George Bush.
"The Buchanan brigades are camped just outside Rockville on our way to Georgia, where we anticipate a second engagement with King George's army," Mr. Buchanan told the 19th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to approving applause.
"Mr. Bush said there will be no more 'kinder, gentler.' He's gonna take off the gloves. . . . Well, that is welcome news to us, and welcome to 'Crossfire,' Mr. President,' " the former journalist and Nixon speech writer said, invoking the name of the CNN show in which he was host before launching his presidential campaign.
Mr. Buchanan's gloves, he showed his audience in the Omni Shoreham ballroom, were already off. He called the president's budget proposals, outlined in his State of the Union address, "small, pathetic and timid." And he lashed out on everything from Mr. Bush's handling of the Persian Gulf war and its aftermath to his Supreme Court appointments.
Still wallowing in the close finish of Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, Mr. Buchanan stood on a stage with his arms overhead. Bush/Quayle signs stared him in the eye from a table just below. But more vociferous were the shouts of "Four new years!" and "Bush Quayle Will Fail."
"He's a fighter -- that's what a lot of us like," said Stuart Grimes, xTC Ohio state chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom. "Some of us question if Bush is even a conservative and if he should have a booth here at CPAC."
But the president did have a booth at yesterday's conference, and he did have support, from such conservative leaders as Phyllis Schlafly, chairman of the Republican National Coalition for Life. "We'll support George Bush as long as the Republican platform stays pro-life," she said. "He's been faithful on that."
And while Mr. Buchanan told his audience it was "time to choose" between the two Republicans, many had not. "I'm hoping Buchanan makes a good showing and makes Bush more conservative," said Jorge Amselle, president of the college Republicans at the University of Maryland.
"I like Buchanan's views, except for his protectionism and isolationism, and I hate to say it, but racial undertones," he said. "I don't think he's a racist, but there are definitely undertones. I'm Hispanic -- I believe in free immigration, and he doesn't."
If Frank Enten, a button vendor, was any indication of the conservative crowd's sentiment, Mr. Buchanan beat had it all over Mr. Bush. Mr. Enten's biggest sellers at the conference were: "No Left Turns -- Pat Buchanan Right for America" and "Bushed? Switch to Buchanan for '92."