How the right-wing nurtured a 'dark' movement of 'white male resentment' long before Donald Trump
Countless articles by Never Trump conservatives have lamented the demise of Reagan conservatism and Goldwater conservatism in the Republican Party. Such articles often long for the days when Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill could have major policy disagreements while maintaining a cordial relationship — or how now-President Joe Biden, during his decades in the U.S. Senate, could work out bipartisan bills with conservative GOP senators like John McCain and Bob Dole.
Yet according to journalist Nicole Hemmer, there was a dark side of the GOP long before Donald Trump, in 2015, announced that he would be running for president in the 2016 election. In a think piece published by The Atlantic on September 19, Hemmer stresses that parts of the Republican Party had MAGA-like qualities well before Trump’s presidency.
Hemmer recalls that in 1992’s presidential election, two candidates challenged President George H.W. Bush on the right: Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan. While Perot didn’t run as a Republican, Buchanan took on Bush 41 in a GOP presidential primary — and Hemmer obviously considers Buchanan the darker of those two candidates and a much greater influence on Trump and the MAGA movement. Hemmer describes Perot’s campaign as one of “flexible, heterodox politics” rather than “hard-right reactionary politics.”
READ MORE: How Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 campaign became the blueprint for Trumpism: conservative
“Buchanan, a former communications director in the Reagan White House and a popular television personality, felt unconstrained by party orthodoxies,” Hemmer explains. “He had long professed his belief that the ‘biggest vacuum in American politics today is to the right of Ronald Reagan,’ and he set out to prove that in his 1992 campaign for the Republican nomination. He ran well to the right of Bush, not just taking hardline positions on issues such as immigration — he called for a ‘Buchanan fence’ at the border — and affirmative action, but also, resurrecting themes of the Old Right of the 1930s and ’40s: a closed, cramped vision of an America that needed to be protected from foreign trade, foreign people, and foreign entanglements. He carried out an ‘America First’ campaign that argued against U.S. involvement abroad and denounced free-trade deals such as the newly negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement.”
According to Hemmer, “(Buchanan) also brought a dark note to the campaign, calling for a revolution against a whole slew of enemies: liberals, feminists, immigrants, even Republicans such as George Bush. Running against Bush for the nomination, Buchanan took to calling him ‘King George,’ promising that his supporters, the ‘Buchanan brigade,’ would lead a new American revolution if Buchanan won. Even Buchanan was stunned by how well his message resonated.”
Perot and Buchanan both campaigned on angry right-wing populism in 1992, and both of them were scathing critics of NAFTA. But Buchanan was much more of a culture warrior. Ultimately, Hemmer argues, Buchanan’s 1992 campaign proved more influential in the GOP than Perot’s.
According to Hemmer, “The agenda that the right built over the course of the 1990s would be far more Buchanan than Perot. When an anti-government militia movement gained power in the early ’90s, the right saw it as an opportunity, not a warning…. On issue after issue, the right developed a politics of resentment. Feminism was to blame for flooding the workplace with women who not only competed for wages, but raised complaints about harassment and unequal treatment. Immigrants were to blame for overcrowded schools, high housing costs, and lower wages. Government agents were coming for your guns, your land, your money, and your rights, using immigration policy and affirmative action to ensure that White men would not have the resources or the power they once enjoyed.”
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When Trump ran for president in 2016, Hemmer emphasizes, he appealed to a movement of “White male resentment” that had been brewing in the GOP for many years.
“The party had been preparing for a quarter century for a figure like Donald Trump: a bombastic television personality whose solutions to voter frustrations involved pointing at the very same groups that Buchanan once had,” Hemmer observes. “Trump was not an exception; he was simply the next step on a path the right had started down almost three decades before.”
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