Buchanan's threat

Bolting GOP: If he seeks Reform Party nod, it's because he is no longer right wing's darling.

September 18, 1999

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY of the Big Tent, of George W. Bush, the party poised to recapture the White House by appealing to the broad center and conservative right of the U.S. electorate, need not fear Hurricane Pat.

The combative ideologue Patrick J. Buchanan, whose quixotic forays for the presidency enliven many a staid Republican primary, is threatening to ditch the party of his career to seek the nomination of the Reform Party. This has some Republican faithful wringing their hands. They should relax.

If Mr. Buchanan proceeds with this, it won't be because the Grand Old Party deserted its right wing. Rather, its right wing is dumping him, this pre-primary season, for trendier champions, Gary Bauer and Steve Forbes.

A great party driven to the center in search of a national majority must accept defections on its fringe. If not Mr. Buchanan, then someone else. Mr. Buchanan is a good fit for the Reform Party on campaign finance reform and economic nationalism. But his victim-bashing, ethnic blaming and zero-tolerance moral crusading contradict the libertarian streak in the Reform Party, which concedes a broad domain to privacy.

Though friends of Mr. Perot are encouraging Mr. Buchanan, the party takes its libertarianism seriously. Its one great winner is Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, now a rival to Mr. Perot who is encouraging a Donald Trump candidacy to beat back the Buchanan threat.

If Mr. Buchanan still wants a cultural war, he is likely to have it. No party can outlaw abortion (Mr. Buchanan's cause) while legalizing prostitution (Mr. Ventura's) without exploding.

So if Pugnacious Pat does throw his hat in this ring, the Reform Party convention in Long Beach, Calif., Aug. 10-13, will be the one interesting political convention left. The others will be tepid scripted shows. But if Mr. Buchanan is out there slugging, the party he splits won't be the GOP.

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