PATRICK BUCHANAN'S campaign for the White House has entered a quiet but important phase - one that could give him a big head start against his rivals in the 1996 Republican presidential race.
During the next seven weeks, Mr. Buchanan will campaign largely in two states: North Carolina, which votes May 5; and California, which casts ballots on June 2. He will pound away at conservative themes in hopes of influencing White House policy and building a larger following within the GOP.
Bay Buchanan, the candidate's sister and campaign chairwoman, says he will focus primarily on a few specific issues of particular interest to voters in the southern parts of the United States. Among them:
r Illegal immigration. Ms. Buchanan says the waves of illegal aliens pouring into the United States are creating an explosive problem in states like California and Texas. She says immigrants are overwhelming the public sector, raising taxes, and reducing the quality of health care, education, and other services.
r Multiculturalism. Heavy immigration, both legal and illegal, is creating pressures to alter American education and rewrite history textbooks, with more emphasis on Latin, African, and Asian cultures. Mr. Buchanan argues that multiculturalism causes alienation among America's new citizens and could lead to future racial problems.
r Foreign aid. President Bush is calling for increased outlays for the former Soviet Union. Mr. Buchanan will demand that resources be kept at home to alleviate joblessness and poverty.
He already has admitted that he cannot win the 1992 GOP presidential nomination. But he travels this week to California to pursue his agenda, despite some danger that he could weaken support for Bush among Republicans in that pivotal state.
Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, says Buchanan's long-term strategy is shrewd, especially as the party looks ahead to 1996. The issues Buchanan will emphasize are ripe in California, where joblessness exceeds the national average, and where poverty and crime are growing daily.
"It could thrill conservatives and create for Buchanan a very powerful structure for '96," Dr. Sabato says. "If he strikes the right themes ... against [Gov. Pete] Wilson as well as Bush - and Californians right now [dislike] Wilson far more than [they dislike] Bush - that will warm the cockles of conservatives' hearts."
Sabato says that, by 1996, California conservatives may be asking, "Where was Jack Kemp?" and "Where was Dan Quayle?" when we needed them.
Several conservatives, including Vice President Quayle, are among the most likely GOP candidates in 1996. Others are Mr. Kemp, who is secretary of Housing and Urban Development; William Bennett, former secretary of education, and US Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas.
At present, most analysts consider Quayle to be the front-runner because of his current position. But Sabato calls him "a very shaky front-runner." As the California primary approaches, Bay Buchanan says she has urged her brother to talk more and more about immigration. She says:
"I'm from southern California.... The quality of our living, our education, our budget problems, our crime - everything is related to this issue. You cannot solve these problems until you go to the source.
"It takes a courageous individual to be willing to talk about this. But [to understand this issue], all you have to do is be there. Our elected officials are negligent at best, and I could use a lot stronger words, for their willingness to just overlook [illegal immigration] because they are afraid of the backlash."
Approximately 1 million illegal aliens are apprehended every year by the US Border Patrol. The largest number are caught at the California-Mexico frontier, where thousands of Mexicans as well as nationals from more than 60 other countries often find easy entry. US officials estimate that they catch only one out of every two persons who enter unlawfully.
When he raises the issue, however, Buchanan is often denounced by immigrant-rights groups and other critics as a "nativist."
"That's a new term to me," Bay Buchanan says. "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.' "
Unless something is done soon in southern California to stem the flow, Ms. Buchanan says, there's danger that anger and hatred will boil over.
"It could happen tomorrow," she warns. She tells of "very educated, very establishment," and "well-to-do" Californians who speak with shocking harshness about immigrants. She says: "The way they talk about other nationalities is really frightening."
Multiculturalism also draws her brother's ire. In a syndicated column published in August 1991 he wrote nostalgically about the 1950s, when he grew up in Washington, D.C. He spoke of clean streets, pretty shops, and gasoline stations where courteous attendants cared for your automobile. Movies of the time expressed morality, and tickets were just 50 cents. Homes were neat. People were polite.
Buchanan asks what went wrong, and then gives his answer: Religious institutions and beliefs collapsed. Popular culture was undermined by violence and sex. Family structures were torn by divorce.
All this happened as immigration, legal and illegal, grew and the institutions which could help to assimilate the newcomers were breaking down.
The result, he says, was alienation, ethnic gang violence, new demands for ethnic studies and separatism on campuses, and growing pressure to teach children in Spanish and other languages. The cultural fabric of the nation is fraying, he says.
Buchanan quotes Lawrence Auster of the American Foundation to Control Immigration in Monterey, Va., who asks: "Must we absorb all the peoples of the world into our society, and submerge our historic character as a predomantly Caucasian, Western society?"
Many Americans apparently are sympathetic to such arguments. A Gallup poll taken earlier this year found that 64 percent of Americans say they would be "more likely ... to vote for a presidential candidate who favored tougher laws to limit immigration into the United States."
The immigration issue already has proved to be explosive this year in France and Germany, where opponents of immigration are gaining new political power.
Pat Buchanan may champion that cause in the US.