Buchanan vs. the GOP Insurgent's choices: Does he hurt Dole more by staying in or getting out of the party?

March 29, 1996

AS PAT BUCHANAN contemplates his future, let us contemplate Pat Buchanan. He does not want Bob Dole elected president of the United States. Why so? Because once he is installed in the Oval Office, Mr. Dole would make it his business to marginalize his tormentor and to make sure, in the selection of lTC his successor, that control of the Republican Party stays in the hands of the moderate-conservative Establishment.

So what does Pugnacious Pat do about such a nightmare? He can stay within the GOP big tent, merrily skewering its proclaimed nominee while maneuvering to be the center of attention at the Republican National Convention. Or he can form a third party, as his sister and campaign manager, Bay Buchanan, advocates.

Our guess is that he will choose the first course. Indeed, it's a no-brainer. If President Clinton wins the election, Mr. Buchanan would emerge as a major player in the GOP, provided he remains within its fold. But if he were to mount a treasonous third-party candidacy, what's left of the Dole Establishment would be sure to treat him as the enemy he is.

Moreover, why should Mr. Buchanan do his bit to subvert Bob Dole when Ross Perot is doing it for him? Mr. Perot knows that Mr. Dole's current problem is the cloud of utter boredom that has descended on the GOP after a truncated primary season. And so, publicity nut that he is, Mr. Perot has moved into the vacuum with a series of teasing will-he or won't-he appearances. His intention is probably to continue this game as long as he can before commiting himself to another run for the presidency.

Mr. Perot appeals to secular libertarians who hate government interference in their lives. Mr. Buchanan's allure is to the religious right and believes government should intervene in the very personal business of abortion. A combination of these forces would be sure to produce intellectual and ideological indigestion.

Given all these factors, Mr. Buchanan is more than likely to stay in the GOP but carve out a personal constituency that will demand to be heard in the party platform and in convention oratory. Mr. Dole certainly does not wish to read "Buchanan brigades" out of the party. But having contemplated the fate of George Bush, he also cannot wish to give Mr. Buchanan another chance to undercut Republican prospects as he did at the 1992 convention. Senator Dole is the acknowledged leader of his party. Now it is his job to contain Pat Buchanan in a way that confirms that position.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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