Buchanan to Lend GOP a Hand, but His Eye Is on 2000
Truce with party's mainstream may be brief
SAN DIEGO — Pat Buchanan has decided to play nice with the mainstream Republican Party at its convention, even endorsing (though only in writing) the Dole-Kemp ticket.
But his "truce of San Diego" is an uneasy one. The hard-line conservative leader - who garnered 3 million votes in this spring's primaries and has 150 delegates here - has made it clear that, ultimately, he is more loyal to his movement than to a Republican Party that holds him at arm's length.
"His commitment is to his idea and his ideals, more so than to his party," says his campaign manager and sister, Bay Buchanan. "But he feels an enormous commitment to the party as well, and he'd like to bring them together."
Mr. Buchanan may feel he can afford to endorse Bob Dole because social conservatives - including some of his own delegates - dominated the drafting of the party platform. As a result, the platform contains many Buchanan positions: It is strongly anti-abortion and opposed to affirmative action and a federal role in education.
Standing on the sidelines
But with the convention in full swing, Buchanan is relegated to the fringes. Dole forces are adamant that the conservative firebrand not get a moment on the podium during prime time, and so Buchanan must settle for television shots of him mingling on the convention floor.
The "Buchanan brigades" are also ill at ease here - but they feel they have a mission.
"We're checking the mood of the convention," says Mark Fortin, an alternate delegate from Macomb County, Mich., and a Buchanan supporter. "I have to go home and go to these people [fellow Buchananites] and say, 'This is what Pat wants. He wants us to make peace, work together, get Bob Dole elected, and after that we're going to see that he pushes this platform.' "
If elected, Mr. Dole may have different plans for the platform. In a press interview, he stated that he hadn't read the platform - as other Republican leaders have not - and didn't feel bound to it. Those are just the kinds of comments that heighten suspicion among Buchananites and tempt them to make more waves here.
On Aug. 12, some Buchanan delegates were contemplating walking out during the next night's keynote address by US Rep. Susan Molinari (R) of New York, who favors abortion rights. A senior Dole strategist scoffed at the notion; Buchanan delegates themselves predicted they probably wouldn't stage a disruptive and embarrassing scene. After all, Buchanan himself has called for peace, at least for now.
But, adds Buchanan delegate Dottie Watson from New Orleans, "I'll probably just make sure I'm absent when Susan Molinari speaks." Other Louisiana delegates nodded that they may do the same.
Of the Buchananites, one thing is certain: "They are a feisty bunch," says political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
The addition of Jack Kemp to the ticket has also not satisfied Buchanan supporters, despite Mr. Kemp's opposition to abortion. For one thing, he's a "big tenter," favoring tolerance of abortion-rights supporters. He also supports affirmative action and opposes California's anti-immigrant Proposition 187. Both positions are antithetical to Buchananites. When Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary last February, Kemp joined the chorus of Republican leaders denouncing him.
But most Buchanan followers, like Buchanan, have swallowed hard and endorsed the GOP ticket, realizing they have greater clout as a movement within the GOP than outside it.
Not all Buchanan backers are willing to make the leap to Dole, though. After Buchanan declared his truce Aug. 11 at a boisterous rally in Escondido, Calif., 45 minutes from here, some of the 1,200 supporters at the event declared they could not possibly vote for Dole.
"Republicans and Democrats are one big monster, destroying our rights as individuals," says Joellen Cabot, a homemaker from Santa Ana, Calif., who is not attending the Republican convention and plans to vote Libertarian in November.
Join Christian Coalition? Not!
Some Buchananites in San Diego regret there is not more coordination among the Buchanan delegates and alternates who have gathered here. And many reject the Christian Coalition's efforts to coordinate them. Some Buchananites are angry that Christian Coalition leaders, including Ralph Reed, in effect supported Dole in key primary states, such as South Carolina, and took votes away from Buchanan.
As for Buchanan's future, he made clear at the Escondido rally that after the 10-week truce, the gloves would come off again. He also strongly hinted at another presidential run in 2000. Whether he will remain a Republican at that point is open to speculation. But judging from the mood inside the hall at Escondido, talk of a third-party run would bring hoots of approval.