As he endorses the president, Buchanan will be looking at '96

August 11, 1992|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Patrick J. Buchanan has agreed to endorse President Bush in a prime-time speech Monday, but count on the fiery commentator to be his old maverick self.

Mr. Buchanan won't show his speech to Republican Party officials beforehand. He sent his sister to Houston to denounce the GOP's draft platform as "weak" and spent the week drafting a speech he hopes will electrify the nation -- and position him as the crown prince of American conservatism.

Party officials say they don't mind any of this -- their concern is helping Mr. Bush in the short term -- and they think Mr. Buchanan will help.

"Pat doesn't want Bill Clinton elected," said Republican Party spokesman Gary Koops. "He will make that clear."

But conservative writer Burton Yale Pines makes another point:

"The race for the 1996 nomination begins one day after the convention," he said last week. "And Pat Buchanan has a leg up."

But Mr. Buchanan's forces aren't waiting even that long.

Last month, his followers raised an impressive $700,000 -- even though Mr. Bush had clinched the nomination in April. The Buchanan camp has an active donor list of 90,000 names, and its phone number in Houston ends with the digits "1996."

And yesterday, his supporters arrived in Houston and presented their vision of what the Republican Party should stand for.

Their vision keeps the GOP's strong anti-abortion language, calls on the U.S. military to stop illegal immigration, does away with laws that require affirmative action, opposes all tax increases, freezes government hiring and spending, calls for term limits for politicians, allows

tuition vouchers for private schools, closes down the National Endowment for the Arts, weakens the Endangered Species Act, phases out foreign aid and plays hardball in trade negotiations with Japan and other nations.

Many of these themes are the great causes of the hard right, and Mr. Buchanan is one of its ablest advocates. However, many conservatives question whether Mr. Buchanan has the temperament to fill the huge void left by Ronald Reagan.

A bombastic, caustic and extremely bright newspaper columnist and TV commentator, Pat Buchanan lampoons liberalism and modernism alike, and critiques political correctness with a verve and cleverness that even his enemies respect.

But he also has a tendency to cross the line.

"The poor homosexual," he wrote mockingly in 1983, at the onset of the AIDS epidemic. "They have declared war on nature and now nature is exacting an awful retribution."

Mr. Buchanan's followers seem to revel in his outspoken nature.

"Pat doesn't say something because it's politically expedient," his campaign treasurer, Scott B. Mackenzie, said. "He has beliefs. I like working for someone like that. As Lincoln said, 'If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything.' "

Mr. Mackenzie, one of the Republican Party's ablest fund-raisers, is one of the cadre of talented and young Washington-based true believers who turned down chances to work for Mr. Bush, whom they mistrust, to join Mr. Buchanan's long-shot candidacy.

Mr. Buchanan could be a threat four years from now. In a model perfected by Mr. Reagan, his staff wants Mr. Buchanan, unencumbered by the restrictions of holding political office, to travel the lecture circuit, giving as many speeches as he can, adding to that impressive donor list.

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