‘A nuttier, more abrasive' version of Pat Buchanan: How the arch-conservative paved the way for Donald Trump
If any presidential candidate of the last 30 years should be cited as the one who has had the greatest influence on Donald Trump’s presidency, it would be — hands down — Patrick J. Buchanan. Now 80, the veteran politician, author and columnist has had an enormous influence on the mixture of isolationism, social conservatism and “America first” nationalism that has defined Trumpism. And journalist Windsor Mann, in an in-depth essay for The Week published on July 26, outlines the many ways in which Trumpism has been Buchananism 2.0.
Mann opens his comprehensive piece by noting that in 1991, Buchanan launched his GOP presidential primary challenge to President George H.W. Bush — and “25 years later,” Mann writes, “he won.”
Mann, of course, isn’t saying that Buchanan was literally elected president in 2016. Rather, his point is that when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton three years ago, he did so with a nativist platform that recalled Buchanan’s early 1990s campaign. And the ideas that frightened the Republican establishment back then, Mann stresses, have become standard GOP policy under Trump.
In 1991, Mann recalls, Buchanan declared, “We will put American first” — and Trump, during his 2016 campaign, similarly declared that “America first” would “be the major and overriding theme of my administration.” What has changed dramatically over the years, Mann stresses, is the acceptance of Buchanan’s ideas in the GOP.
Mann notes that neocon Bill Bennett, in the early 1990s, asserted that Buchanan was “flirting with fascism” and “cannot be allowed to hijack conservatism” — while Newt Gingrich (who became House speaker after the 1994 red wave) denounced Buchanan as “an extremist who is closer to David Duke than he is to the normal mainstream conservative.” But in 2019, Mann quickly adds, Bennett and Gingrich are both Trump supporters — as is white supremacist David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
Mann points out that Buchanan often described immigration from developing countries as an “invasion” in the 1990s, and Trump uses that word repeatedly now. And while Buchanan proposed a “double-link security fence” at the U.S./Mexico border in the 1990s, Trump favors a wall.
In 1999, back when he was more of a Blue Dog Democrat, Trump denounced Buchanan as a “Hitler lover” and an “anti-Semite” who “doesn’t like the blacks.” But Trump, as Mann notes, has since apologized to Buchanan and fully embraced his ideas — much to Buchanan’s delight. In a 2017 interview with Politico, Buchanan stressed that although he never became president in the 1990s, his ideas have been embraced in a major way by the Trump Administration.
“When Trump decided to run for president in 2015,” Mann writes, “he was a reality TV star and a birther — a nuttier, more abrasive version of Buchanan. Whether he was calling for tariffs or assailing Mexican rapists, he talked like someone in the 19th Century, not the 21st.”
In fact, Buchanan has often praised Trump on Antiwar.com, a right-wing website that has been vehemently disdainful of neocons and is known for its mixture of paleoconservative and libertarian views and champions an anti-interventionist foreign policy (former Rep. Ron Paul has written for Antiwar.com extensively, and their late editorial director, Justin Raimondo, once ran against Rep. Nancy Pelosi as a Republican in San Francisco). The parallels between Buchananism and Trumpism have been discussed extensively on Antiwar.com.
Mann concludes his piece for The Week by noting that there is one huge difference between Trump and Buchanan: Trump isn’t nearly as smart.
“For all their similarities,” Mann observes, “Trump lacks Buchanan’s intelligence and convictions. A know-nothing nativist, he espouses Buchanan’s ideas without comprehending them. It’s only a matter of time until Trump tells Native Americans to go back to their own country.”