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Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 1999/29 Elul, 5759

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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Pat, savior or spoiler? -- SINCE PAT BUCHANAN is said to be seriously considering bolting the Republican Party for the Reform Party, it is important to contemplate the potential ramifications of such a decision.

His chief advisor, sister Bay Buchanan said, "I think it is an incredible opportunity, and there is a big cry across the country for a third party candidate."

Adding further fuel to speculation about Pat's defection is an e-mail letter a friend forwarded to me from Pat to his followers. In the letter he charges that "the Republican Party Establishment is attempting to put the fix in and rig the 2000 nomination in favor of its anointed candidate, Governor George W. Bush. And we need to protest this outrage, right now!"

Buchanan argues that such a closed nominating process will be disastrous for Republicans, "Well, my friend, that is the formula for yet another conservative-Republican defeat in 2000."

Unfortunately, some establishment Republicans are not taking Pat's threats seriously. They are privately questioning whether Buchanan's departure would have a major impact. These officials contend that his trade views would attract a fair share of hard-hat Democrats hurt by the Clinton administration's free-trade policies. They better think again.

It's one thing for Pat to consider leaving the GOP. It's quite another for him to choose the Reform Party as his next home. Patrick Choate, Perot's running mate in 1996, says that Pat would be a perfect fit because he is in tune with Reformers on its major issues: a balanced budget, term limits and trade.

Well, is Choate correct? Everyone claims to support a balanced budget these days, but what about the Reform Party's position on taxes and spending to achieve that balance? The truth is that Ross Perot's fiscal policies more closely resemble that of the Democrats than the Republicans.

But worse, for Pat, is their stand on social issues. They are as recalcitrant as Libertarians about social issues being a part of the policy mix. But Pat has been a leading proponent of social conservatism, including the right to life.

And does anybody even know where the Reform Party stands on other major issues, such as foreign policy or what types of judges they would appoint?

The Reform Party is held together not by any cohesive ideology, but by a common thread of frustration with the two major parties.

In addition, it is not clear that Pat would be unanimously welcomed by all Reform leaders. Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is said to be cool to the prospect of Buchanan's Reform candidacy. He has said that Buchanan's social agenda does not fit with the Reform Party's agenda, which is mostly fiscal.

Pat's decision to run on the Reform ticket wouldn't be merely quixotic as was Bob Smith's threat to run on a third party ticket. His candidacy could be as disruptive as Ross Perot's was in 1992 and maybe more so.

Ross Perot received 19 percent of the vote in 1992 and would have received significantly more had he not demonstrated his singular flakiness and temporarily bailed out of the race. In 1996, he still got 8 percent even though his quirkiness was by then well known.

The level of voter discontent is every bit as pronounced today as it was in 1992. And the disillusionment and angst among the conservative wing of the party may be at an all time high. Many of these voters are very serious about either sitting out the election or throwing their support to a viable third party candidate.

Though not all of these potential GOP defectors are necessarily in Buchanan's camp on every issue, especially his economic populism, they share with him an abiding resentment and distrust for establishment Republicans and their perceived cinch lock on the party nominating apparatus.

If the eccentric and largely agendaless Ross Perot could garner 19 percent of the vote in 1992 and arguably sabotage George Bush Sr.'s presidential election, how much more could a highly focused Pat Buchanan do the same to a George W. Candidacy in 2000, especially with $12.5 million of federal matching funds in his arsenal?

It is very possible that a Reform Party Buchanan could tilt the election to Al Gore.

Regardless of the magnitude of Pat's frustration, I still can't bring myself to believe that this GOP stalwart would so willingly become Al Gore's greatest benefactor.

As he considers whether to run, Pat would be do well to heed his own admonition in his letter to his followers: "Well, my friend, that is the formula for yet another conservative-Republican defeat in 2000."

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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