The speech is nearly 25 years old, but its notes ring familiar. Very familiar. “The establishment that has dominated the Congress for four decades is as ossified and out of touch with the American people as the ruling class of the White House,” said Pat Buchanan in his 1992 remarks announcing a primary run against George H.W. Bush for the GOP nomination. He goes on to discuss, among other things, an America in crisis, the rise of nationalism, the scourge of drugs, the urgent need to take back our streets from criminals, unfair trade deals, ethnic violence, and political correctness — or as he puts it, the “landfill called multiculturalism” that threatens future generations.
Modify a few particulars of Buchanan’s 1992 platform, like the foreign economic powers worthy of fear — China and Mexico replacing Japan and the European Union — or the size of the federal debt, or which NATO allies need to be “paying the bills for their own defense,” and Buchanan’s message feels eerily up to date. And that’s before taking into account his suggestion to fence off America’s border with Mexico.
In an interview promoting his book, State of Emergency, an anti-immigration tract that warns of a coming “third world America,” Buchanan once said, [I] like the country I grew up in. It was a good country. I lived in Washington, D.C., 400,000 black folks, 400,000 white folks, in a country 89 or 90 percent white. I like that country.” In other words, the last time America was great.
One of the original icons of paleoconservatism, Buchanan was a speechwriter for Nixon during Watergate, and went on to advise Republican presidents Ford and Reagan before developing a career as a columnist, radio host, and television pundit. During his presidential runs in 1992 and 1996, his candidacy was rejected as fringe, having accumulated a de facto coalition of wingnuts and white nationalists no doubt drawn to his long record of writing and saying terrible things. In Trump, their descendants on the alt-right finally found a candidate they could call their own again.
And today, the very same brand of economic and white-culture protectionism has fueled Trump’s populist ascent. “For good or for ill,” wrote Eleanor Clift, Buchanan’s longtime co-panelist on The McLaughlin Group after Trump clinched the nomination this summer, “Trump has mainstreamed and normalized what shocked the political class a quarter-century ago, taking Buchanan’s ideas and transforming them into a potentially winning hand in November.”
Buchanan hasn’t been shy about the vindication this election has afforded him. We spoke with him shortly after FBI Director James Comey released his controversial statement about potential Clinton-related emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.
To what extent do think your ideas have been taken up by the Trump campaign this election?
Well, there’s no doubt about it.
If you’re talking about economic nationalism, economic patriotism, border security, an end to illegal immigration, no more unnecessary wars, and, if you will, sort of a nationalist populist agenda, much of the real differentiation of Trump from the other Republicans is contained in those issues and those ideas. I give him credit, I don’t think he read me or studied me or got them from me. I think he came to them on his own, and picked up on them in this campaign.
I opposed NAFTA in 1993 and ‘94. I opposed the World Trade Organization. I opposed all of that in the 1990s, and here we are 20 years later, and they’ve been elevated and become the decisive issues in the campaign.
Why do you think Trump has been able to build a coalition around these issues? What’s changed?
It’s very simple: What we predicted is what’s come to pass. I said if we enact NAFTA and GAT and this China trade deal, all our factories will be shut down and shipped abroad, they’ll send our products back to the United States, we will lose millions of manufacturing jobs, we will denude our country virtually of all manufacturing. People came to understand exactly what was happening, these free-trade deals which both parties had enacted at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, and Trump walked out there and said, “Look at the disaster.”
The election is just over a week away, what do you make of Trump’s chances at this point?
[Laughs] I think they got better today! Take a look at Drudge! Comey’s re-opening the FBI investigation. On that: I went through Watergate, and it took a lot of time from the Watergate break-in to the leaking to the Washington Post. It took about three months, they started popping stuff up in October. I don’t know if there’s going to be any conclusion from the FBI, but this has put a huge question mark over Hillary’s campaign, although she’s ahead or tied. She’s probably ahead in ten battleground states and tied in two or three, and Trump has to win virtually every one of them. He’s got a real — it’s a very, very narrow path, but it still exists. But we’re going to have to see what the reaction is to the FBI thing. I do notice the markets headed south, when news came that the FBI is going to re-open the investigation. It can’t be good news.
If you read my latest column, it said that this is going to be a presidency from hell. But you know the servers and the emails and the Clinton Foundation and all the money, and then the fact that she has testified under oath repeatedly, she has talked to federal officials, lying to whom is a felony. So I think, and then you’ve got all these WikiLeaks, thousands of emails, so what they’re going to have to do I think in the first days if Clinton won, in the first days of that administration, they’re going to be sifting through all these things to find contradictions and statements that appear to be false. And if they find some that’s going to call into existence an independent council, Justice will have to appoint one, and then they’ll proceed down the road.
There’s a lot that’s been made in this election about Trump’s coalition, about the demographic decline of White America. What do you make of the demographics of this movement?
The Republican Party is under a death sentence. It’s quite simple. The base of the Republican Party, which was first put together in the great New Majority coalition when I was in the White House with Nixon, we did it from 1969 to ‘72, and we won 49 states. Ninety percent of the electorate was Americans of European descent. If you got 60 percent of 90 percent, that’s 54 percent of the country. So what’s happened is, the white share of the population has fallen from close to 90 percent down to about 60 percent now and falling. And the white share of the election is 70 percent, and unless you get more people of color voting for you, you can’t get a majority.
California has gone Democratic in all of the last six presidential elections, and when the nation looks like California demographically, it’s probably gonna look like California politically. What does that mean? There’s not a single Republican in statewide office in California. Congressional-delegation Republicans are outnumbered more than two to one, and in the state legislature, the senate, and the house, they are outnumbered almost two to one, so the Republican Party is down to 31 percent of the state of California. It is inexorable.
What Trump has done is this: His vote is similar to my vote, but it’s much larger. I remember going out to the Iowa caucuses, I think it was back in ’96 or 2000, and one of these liberal Republican journalists said “These people aren’t Republicans.” And they weren’t, they were coming in on motorcycles, they were working-class Democrats, and they were coming out to the Iowa straw poll to vote for me. What Trump has done is he has energized a tremendous number of the blue-collar Democrats in Ohio and Michigan, and originally in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Many of them have left him by now, but he had at one point a real shot to win these states that Republicans haven’t won since 1988.
This coalition doesn’t look large enough to win the election for Trump, are there ways this platform can gain ground without Trump winning?
This year take a look at it. Back in 1992 to ‘94, when I was on the radio between presidential runs, and we were fighting NAFTA, when I needed somebody and I didn’t get the guest I wanted, I’d say ‘Well, give Bernie Sanders a call, he’s good on NAFTA.’ What’s happened now is not only has Trump moved the Republican Party strongly in the direction of economic nationalism, Hillary Clinton has abandoned the TPP. We have won the argument nationally. We actually were very close to winning it back then, but now we have won it politically. And even the Republican Party I don’t think can go back to the TPP and free trade without committing suicide.
Secondly, I think if the Republican party goes to amnesty on illegal immigration, the way Bush was moving toward it and McCain was, they will be committing suicide, the country doesn’t want that, it wants the border secure.
Third, the Beltway elites, the neocons, and the others, no matter who wins, will be pushing for a war with Russia or Iran or somebody. We haven’t yet won on the war issue, Obama’s got no enthusiasm for a war in Syria or a war against Russia, but a key questions is if Hillary wins, what happens? There’s a segment in the Republican Party that remains interventionist and hawkish and really I think still rooted in the Cold War.
Do you feel vindicated by this election?
I am elated that Trump has raised these issues, the issues that have tremendous currency now. They were decisive issues I think certainly in the Republican primaries, where he wiped up the floor with 16 establishment Republicans. I’m elated that it’s been recognized and that people are coming around to the damage done to the country in the last 20 years by masses of illegal immigration, the division in the country, the change in the country that’s taken place. All these factories are gone, the economic dynamism of the country is gone.
Am I glad everybody is aware of it now? Sure, but it’s very sad. I’ll never understand why the establishment — even if they don’t like me — why they couldn’t see the truth of some of the issues, the popularity, and the real pull of the issues we raised, and the votes we got, and why they didn’t move themselves as a good politician does to really co-opt and seize them, and deal with the problem before it became the crises we have today. I’m delighted we were proven right, but I’m not happy as to what’s happened to the country because these folks didn’t address it.