Buchanan presidential campaign called a crusade, a bid for leverage GOP leaders urge him to quit, rally behind Dole, but he's expected to persist

Campaign 1996

April 02, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- He has lost 29 straight primaries, he fared far worse in last week's California primary than he did four years ago, and he is attracting only about one in 10 voters nationwide. What's more, he has already conceded the Republican presidential nomination to his opponent.

So why is Patrick J. Buchanan sticking around?

Leading Republicans, some of whom contend that Mr. Buchanan is overplaying his hand and acting like a sore loser by continuing his campaign, have been urging him to rally behind Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, as the other failed Republican contenders have done.

The Republican national chairman, Haley Barbour, in a phone call with Bay Buchanan, the candidate's sister and campaign manager, said the party leaders would now treat Mr. Dole as the nominee. Translation: It's over, kids.

"Pat Buchanan has become a figment of his own imagination," says Eddie Mahe, a Republican strategist. "He's getting close to marginalizing himself even within [his own] community. He should get out of the race, get behind Bob Dole and shut up. And he won't do any of the above."

Indeed, he probably won't. Mr. Buchanan has turned his campaign into a crusade, saying the race is not just about the presidency anymore. And whether it is through a third-party bid -- which he's said to be considering after a meeting with supporters -- or through his sniping at the Republican nominee from inside the party, the party's bad boy has vowed to go on.

"Pat made a commitment to everyone who supported his campaign that he would go all the way with his message and their cause," says Greg Mueller, a top Buchanan aide.

What exactly does Mr. Buchanan want? A hearing during the platform debate for his core issues -- such as unfair trade deals, a crackdown on immigration and a ban on all abortion rights; influence in the vice-presidential selection; and a spotlight at the Republican national convention.

"If we're going to be the party of ideas, you can't deny the man who came in second a slot at the convention," Mr. Mueller says.

But Mr. Dole has suggested that he can. "To let him tell us what we should do -- it's not going to happen," the Kansas senator said recently.

Moreover, while Mr. Buchanan's distance from Mr. Dole on most issues, such as abortion, is a matter only of degrees, on trade and immigration he is sharply at odds with the presumptive nominee and the party establishment. "Our Republican Party is not going to accept Buchanan's position on those issues," Mr. Mahe says.

Still, those who know him say it's highly unlikely that this thoroughly Republican man would leave the party and run as an independent or third-party candidate, taking conservative votes from Mr. Dole and potentially helping re-elect President Clinton.

"I've known Pat since the '60s, and I'd be utterly shocked if he left the Republican party," says Paul Weyrich, a conservative leader.

For now, at home in McLean, Va., Mr. Buchanan is pondering his future. He has gone so far as to suggest that he is thinking about the year 2000. And if he wants to run again then, he knows his best bet is to stay in the Republican Party. "Once you're out of the party," says a Buchanan adviser, "you're out for life."

The main reason Mr. Buchanan may be entertaining the idea of bolting, say those who know the former "Crossfire" host, is that he has bristled at his dismissive treatment by Mr. Dole and the Republican establishment.

Whether he runs inside or outside his party, some say, Mr. Buchanan's only hope for retaining political muscle is to continue with his delegate hunt.

"The minute that he quits, he has no leverage whatsoever," says Mr. Weyrich, who is neutral in the race. "Dole can say, 'Thank you very much,' and then think about him as much as he thinks about Steve Forbes or Lamar Alexander -- which is not at all."

Benjamin Ginsberg, director of the Hopkins Center for the Study of American Government, agrees that Mr. Buchanan's best option is to battle on. "The time for him to be able to get anything from a statesmanlike withdrawal is long past," he says. "There's no reason to withdraw now."

But Mr. Ginsberg, like many strategists, suggests that Mr. Buchanan's stock is low, and that he does not pose as great a threat to Mr. Dole as does Ross Perot's more likely third-party candidacy.

The Buchanan camp, of course, argues that the candidate and (( the supporters who flock to his rallies are vital to Mr. Dole's success.

"Thirty-four percent in Michigan is enough leverage and all the leverage you need," Mr. Mueller says of Mr. Buchanan's showing in the Michigan primary.

Some strategists have likened Mr. Buchanan's efforts to move the Republican Party his way to the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's efforts to steer the Democratic Party in 1988 and 1992. While the 1988 nominee, Michael S. Dukakis, gave Mr. Jackson a key role at the convention, Mr. Clinton, as the 1992 nominee, distanced himself from the Rainbow Coalition leader.

Republican leaders are urging Mr. Dole to take the latter route.

Pub Date: 4/02/96

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