The idea that Donald Trump reflects a populist, nationalist variant of conservatism pioneered by the former three-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan is hardly novel. Jeff Greenfield wrote a column in September with the headline: “Trump Is Pat Buchanan With Better Timing.” The similarities are obvious: Both men spurned the Republican Establishment, rejected GOP economic doctrines from free trade to inclusive immigration laws to “entitlement reform,” and were hostile to globalism in all its forms. They even shared the same “America First” slogan, itself a typically Buchananite shout-out to the old-right isolationists who were indifferent (or worse) toward the possibility of Hitler winning World War II.
That reflects one difference between the two demagogues, of course: Buchanan has always had an acute if skewed sense of history, while the 45th president’s contact with the subject is probably limited to extremely brief exposure to the History Channel. And they are hardly in lockstep on every policy issue: Buchanan has taken angry exception, for example, to his protégé’s long-distance love affair with Bibi Netanyahu.
But it is the priorities President Trump has revealed in his first days in office that really make one pause to realize how similar he is to Buchanan: canceling TPP and demanding the renegotiation of NAFTA; tossing day one goodies to the anti-abortion movement; ordering a quick start to his beloved border wall while threatening the undocumented; and now, initiating a systematic program of disinvestment in international organizations, especially the U.N. All these are things you might have expected in a Buchanan administration, including the last item: As the Reform Party candidate for president in 2000, Buchanan made withdrawal from the U.N. and expelling the organization from New York a campaign staple. And in 2002, he wrote an entire book attacking liberal immigration policies under the inflammatory title, The Death of the West.
Beyond policies, the tone Donald Trump has adopted as president so far is very faithful to the example set by Buchanan, the pol who invented the term “culture war,” which he regarded as a very good thing. Trump’s belligerent inaugural address and manifest determination to bend the GOP to his will nicely reflect Buchanan’s incessantly combative approach to intra-party and inter-party politics.
While we naturally think of Pat Buchanan as a figure from another era, he is actually only eight years older than Donald Trump. Perhaps he can lend Stephen Miller a hand in the presidential speechwriting shop, where he once labored in the vineyards of Richard M. Nixon. He would fit right in.