WASHINGTON — PATRICK BUCHANAN'S campaign for the presidency has faltered, but his conservative ideas and sharp attacks have kept the White House political staff scrambling since the beginning of the year.
Three months ago in New Hampshire, Mr. Buchanan pounded President Bush mercilessly for his 1990 decision to raise taxes. Not long after Buchanan went on the offensive, Mr. Bush apologized.
Two months ago in Georgia, Buchanan blasted federal spending that supports sexually explicit art. Quickly, Bush fired John Frohnmayer, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Throughout the race, Buchanan has harshly criticized foreign aid, making it uncomfortable and politically dangerous for Bush to offer help to the former Soviet Union. Bush found himself in a crossfire, rescued only by the timely arrival of former President Richard Nixon, who demanded that an aid package move ahead.
Bay Buchanan, the former treasurer of the United States and chairman of her brother's campaign, expresses delight with recent events.
"Pat was able to really change policy," Ms. Buchanan says. "Everyone recognizes George Bush is coming back and listening to Pat and is moving back to the right.
"We feel he [Bush] is a stronger candidate when he is more conservative. But more importantly, he'll be a better president of the United States," says Ms. Buchanan, who in 1981 became the youngest person ever to serve as US Treasurer. She is now a guest lecturer at Pepperdine University.
What Ms. Buchanan doesn't say is that her brother is clearly laying the conservative groundwork for a 1996 run for the White House.
Buchanan admits he has no chance for the nomination this year. But by staying in the race, talking about his ideas, and making Bush dance to his tune, Buchanan solidifies his conservative base. If he plays it right, he could preempt some future Republican rivals for the White House, like William Bennett, the former education secretary, and Jack Kemp, the secretary for Housing and Urban Development.
In this year's early primaries, Buchanan proved himself an adept campaigner. Crowds loved him. Reporters enjoyed his colorful language. But it was his policies which set him clearly apart from Bush and made him a powerful protest candidate in the Republican race.
His slogan, "America First," resonates with voters angry about the decline of US industry, the loss of jobs, and falling home prices. It also sums up Buchanan's views on a wide range of issues - foreign, economic, and social.
Ms. Buchanan says at the heart of the campaign's economic message is "smaller government, trimming the size of government dramatically, getting control of spending. He recognizes it can't be done in a year or two."
She says Buchanan would "put a total freeze on spending." Then he would "cut taxes, reduce regulations, give incentives back to people so we can start getting our own economy back on its feet."
Among the highlights of the Buchanan economic plan, as spelled out during the New Hampshire primary, two themes stood out:
* Demand reciprocity from nations that target American industries for destruction, or America First.
* Revise the tax code so investment and saving are never punished, and idleness and indolence never promoted.
Buchanan's foreign policy marches to the same beat. He would quickly phase out foreign aid that he says drains the US Treasury of $300 million a week to benefit "third-world and socialist regimes."
He would bring home thousands of soldiers now based in Europe. In New Hampshire, Buchanan passed out brochures that said:
"For half a century, Americans fought the cold war against communism, investing thousands of precious lives and trillions of dollars in that great struggle. We won that victory for all mankind. Now, it is time that rich and prosperous allies, like Germany and Japan, start paying the bills for their own defense."
There would be a twofold economic advantage to such a foreign policy move. The US would save billions - money which could be poured into capital investments here.
Germany and Japan would be forced to tax and spend for their own defense, shifting much of the current tax burden away from Americans.
As for foreign aid, Buchanan argues that America simply can no longer afford it.
The social agenda is equally important for Buchanan. He has spoken of cutting all government spending for the arts, suggesting art lovers should pay for their own operas and symphonies just like baseball fans pay for the major league teams.
Buchanan, a Roman Catholic, strongly opposes abortion. He vows to lead "the fight for life in the Congress and the federal courts." He would support a constitutional amendment to restore voluntary prayer in the public schools.
And he strongly opposes any legislation which endorses quotas, such as the recently passed civil-rights law signed by Bush. His sister explains:
"As president, Pat feels we should go through the entire government and make certain it's equal opportunity for all, and that there's no preferential treatment."
At Ms. Buchanan's urging, he has made illegal immigration a major issue, a stand that had led some critics to denounce him as a "nativist." Ms. Buchanan scoffs at that:
"He wants to enforce the law of the land, and they call him a nativist. How do you figure? He's not saying any more than the laws on the books say. He says, 'Enforce the law.' It's a real shame."
After all these issues are listed, categorized, and analyzed, however, they still don't quite explain Buchanan's popularity with many voters as he has crisscrossed the country.
Some of Buchanan's appeal clearly comes from what he has learned during this campaign, and how that has changed him as a person. Reporters traveling with him have noted that Buchanan, often judged a tough right-winger among Republicans, softened as he met hundreds of out-of-work Americans in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
Ms. Buchanan noted the difference, too.
"He was a changed man [after New Hampshire]," she says. "He said, 'You know, Bay, if our policies are not working, however good they sound in books, however theoretically accurate, if they're not helping our people, then what good are they?' "
Ms. Buchanan says when her brother saw unemployed people face-to-face, he realized that this recession is taking away "their pride, their livelihood, their ability to take care of their loved ones."
She says: "Now when he studies every issue, he sees it through the eyes of those workers."