During the 1992 Republican National Convention, conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan created a firestorm. In what would later come to be known as his “culture war” speech, Buchanan excoriated the country’s supposed moral decline, calling for an evangelical victory in the “religious war going on … for the soul of America.”
Buchanan—perhaps more than anyone else—should have known that the ascendance of someone like Donald to the nomination would only be a matter of time. The inflammatory, nationalist rhetoric Trump spewed during the Republican primaries can be traced back to Buchanan’s 1992 challenge against George H.W. Bush.
On the campaign trail, Buchanan linked the Los Angeles riots to immigration problems and suggested that Zulu immigrants would create more problems than British ones. At his convention speech, he railed against “environmental extremists who put insects, rats and birds ahead of families, workers and jobs.” Buchanan proposed building “structures” along the U.S.-Mexico border while Trump was still building skyscrapers in Manhattan.
This time, though, these ideas are actually working: While Buchanan’s diatribes against free trade and immigration only saw the former Nixon speechwriter pushed to the fringes by the Republican establishment, they have now allowed Trump to hijack the GOP.
“The people who like the Donald remember America as it was and don’t really like what it’s become,” he told The Daily Beast in June. “If you think America was a good country you grew up in and you prefer it to now, a lot of people think you’re racist, homophobic, and bigoted. By now we’ve been called lots of names. These are the cuss words of a dying establishment.”
Trump’s success capitalized on the fears of the white-working class, who resent the country’s growing multiculturalism and stagnating industry. While Buchanan focused on abortion and gay rights—two issues on which Trump is arguably less of a demagogue—the central tenets of his political views have always been anti-trade and anti-immigration.
In an opinion column last December, Buchanan wrote “Trump’s success tells us that the American people really do not celebrate ‘globalization.’ […] They want people here illegally to be sent back, the borders secured and a moratorium imposed on Muslim immigration until we fix the broken system.”
Interestingly enough, though, Buchanan’s recent political history also shows that Trump wasn’t the most likely candidate to take over his throne of white nationalism.
After coming in a distant second to Bush in ’92 and then Bob Dole in ’96, Buchanan also competed with none other than Donald Trump for the Reform Party nomination in 2000. But true to his reputation for shifting political identities over the years, The Donald was not quite on board with Buchanan’s nativist orthodoxies back then.
Trump spoke about the virtues of “appreciating different cultures” and went after Buchanan for his hateful remarks against nearly every marginalized group in the country. At the time, he even compared Buchanan to “Attila the Hun” and called him a “neo-Nazi.” (Buchanan’s platform then is nearly identical to Trump’s platform now, BuzzFeed has reported.)
As a result, “I was relatively astonished when he came out against trade and immigration—and to Make America First—that’s on my hats,” Buchanan said, according to The Daily Beast.
Despite his astonishment, Buchanan probably couldn’t be happier: Whereas his 1992 speech was a conciliatory gesture for a primary loser, a racist will finally close out a Republican convention—only a quarter-century later.
Who cares if Donald plagiarized his style?
Photo: Pat Buchanan via Wikimedia Commons