Buchanan shifts, hear the barkers bay

If everything goes as planned on Monday, Pat Buchanan officially will no longer be a Republican. He will declare his intent to seek the Reform Party's nomination for president and instantly become the front-runner, to the great delight of every journalist in Washington.

The buzz mill will set to buzzing about the serious questions Mr. Buchanan's revitalized campaign - now new and improved with extra insurgency - raises for 2000.

The race will now have a new dimension.

Buchanan may only be at about 7 percent in the polls, but coming into what most figure to be a close election, he could still be a serious factor, particularly if he siphons votes from George W. Bush in November 2000.

This talk is all well and good - even merited. But the real story with Pat's foray into the wild and woolly world of the Reform Party has less to do with 2000 than it does everything that comes after it. It has to do with the possibility of having a serious third party anytime in the near future.

For the last eight years or so, the question with Ross Perot's party has been what will happen to his creation when Texas' Little Napoleon steps aside.

Will it become a legitimate third party? Will it become a vessel for equally eccentric Perot-picked successors? Or will it become a freak show?

In 2000 we may get our answer. You can almost hear the carnival barker now.

Of course, the Reform Party has never exactly been known for the seriousness of its candidates. But consider the possibilities and just try to explain what they are all doing under the same tent.

Pat Buchanan - a k a The Amazing Reviso - the historical revisionist and off-again, on-again right chair on "Crossfire," who is a fierce social conservative and strongly pro-life.

Donald Trump - a k a The Human Ego - the New York real estate magnate who is a social liberal and whose credentials for the office seem largely to consist of his notoriety.

Warren Beatty - a k a Sen. Jay Billington Bulworth - the extremely liberal actor best known for his impressive list of ex-girlfriends and whose credentials for the office consist largely of having played a senator in a film.

It is rare that you can look at a field of candidates for president and declare Buchanan the most qualified choice, but there you have it.

Many in the Reform Party will be more than happy to welcome Pat aboard. He speaks some of their language and has a knack for reaching the disaffected.

But how wise is it for a third party, which aims to attract Democrats and Republicans to take as their nominee a candidate deemed too far out for his own party?

If Buchanan - or for that matter any of that previous list - captures the Reform Party nomination, one can only wonder how anyone will take it seriously.

The sad thing here is that the Reform Party, which did not begin with great promise, had seemed to be making strides in the last few years.

Mr. Perot looked as if he was staying away and the party actually captured a governorship.

And while people may laugh at Gov. Jesse Ventura's antics, his grades on governing have been good. He has taken a middle-of-the- road, somewhat Libertarian approach to governing that is largely socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.

And more important, his third-party status has allowed him to steer clear of partisanship as he gathers input from Democrats and Republicans alike.

This country has been in need of a serious third party for some time, a party to make the Democrats and the GOP work together instead of bicker.

Our longtime third-party wannabe, the Libertarians, have at times given voice to an interesting big-picture message but their unbending stances on the issues make them completely unpalatable. They oppose even the smallest amount of gun control and their platform even stands against publicly funded schooling.

For a while it appeared that Perot's onetime plaything might actually end up adding a voice to our political dialogue, but as 2000 approaches it looks like it will forever be known as the party of wrestlers, egos, and first-rate political entertainment.

But don't expect any tears from Washington. The Democrats and Republicans know they really have nothing to fear.

And the press is satisfied.

Because whether it's Buchanan, Beatty, or Trump, one thing is certain: The show will go on.

*Dante Chinni writes political commentary from Washington, D.C.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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