Donald Trump’s Presidency Has Helped Buchananism Achieve Prominence in GOP Politics

It isn’t hard to figure out why right-wing pundit and former politician Patrick J. Buchanan has been a strong supporter of President Donald Trump: many of Trump’s ideas are also Buchanan’s ideas. And with Trump’s presidency, Buchananism—an angry, pseudo-populist mixture of xenophobia, anti-immigrant rhetoric, protectionism and hardcore social conservatism—has achieved a prominent role in Republican politics.

Although Buchanan, now 79, was a senior advisor to three Republican presidents—Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan—his more isolationist and protectionist views set him apart from many of the neocons who influenced GOP politics in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Buchanan was always a paleoconservative, not a neocon—and he had no use for the imperialist nation-building fantasies of Norman Podhoretz or Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol.

When AM talk radio host Rush Limbaugh and others in the right-wing media were aggressively pushing for the reelection of President George H.W. Bush in 1992, Buchanan challenged Bush via a Republican primary. And Buchanan’s 1992 campaign contained many of the themes that surfaced in Trump’s presidential campaign 24 years later: fear of immigration, isolationism, severe nationalism and a belief that non-white people were invading the U.S. in droves. Buchanan, who is Catholic, shared the Christian Right’s disdain for gays and abortion but not its passion for intervention in the Middle East.

Much of the Republican establishment shunned Buchanan not only in 1992, but also, when he ran for president again in 1996. Buchanan, however, developed a small but passionate cult following—and now, it is obvious that Trump was paying close attention to him during the 1990s. 

In fact, when Trump’s presidential campaign was picking up more and more steam in 2015 and 2016, the National Review was highly critical of his platform—arguing that Trump was rehashing Buchanan’s campaigns of 1992 and 1996. 

In an August 31, 2015 article, the National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote, “The similarities between the Buchanan and Trump agendas are pretty clear: both are harsh critics of free trade, both staunchly oppose illegal immigration, both spoke out against the Iraq War and find themselves at odds with the party’s hawks. They each wear accusations of racism, xenophobia and hatred as a badge of honor for bravery against the forces of political correctness. And they share a certain style: blunt talk, raised voices, jabbed fingers and pounded podiums.”

But while Buchanan’s 1992 and 1996 campaigns were marginal, Trump’s 2016 campaign was anything but—and he proved to be much more effective than Buchanan himself at pushing the mixture of xenophobia, racial paranoia and flag-waving nationalism that has characterized Buchananism. When Trump declared that he wanted to “make American great again,” it was right out of the Buchanan playbook. And Buchanism—once shunned by the GOP establishment—had its revenge when Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in November 2016 and even managed to win the electoral votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. 

Buchanan, in fact, was an early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign. On July 28, 2015, Buchanan applauded Trump for addressing “the issue of uncontrolled and illegal immigration, the sense America’s borders are undefended, that untold millions of lawbreakers are in our country, and more are coming. While most come to work, they are taking American jobs and consuming tax dollars—and too many come to rob, rape, murder and make a living selling drugs.”

Those are Buchanan’s exact words, not Trump’s. But they are certainly Trump-like in their xenophobia and paranoia.

Buchanan’s enthusiasm for Trump hasn’t waned. In an April 3 column, he articulated what he considers “exceptional” about the president. 

Buchanan wrote, “On many issues—naming Scalia-like judges and backing Reagan-like tax cuts—President Trump is a conventional Republican.” But what made his 2016 campaign truly exceptional, Buchanan asserted, was “his uniquely Trumpian agenda to put America and Americans first—from which the Bush Republicans recoiled. Trump alone pledged to kill amnesty and secure the border with a 30-foot wall to halt the invasion of our country.”

Buchanan wrote, “If (Trump) leaves office with the border unsecured, it is hard to see what stops the Third World invasion, even as it is also coming across the Mediterranean into Europe.” 

Such divisive rhetoric is not only textbook Buchanan—it is also textbook Trump. And with Trump now one year and a half into his nightmarish presidency, Buchananism is no longer a marginal part of GOP politics. It now takes center stage.

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