The Campaign Tapes


Patrick J. Buchanan

Patrick J. BuchananPat Buchanan (born 1938) was a White House advisor and speechwriter for Republican President’s Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He unsuccessfully challenged President George H.W. Bush for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1992, but not before giving the incumbent a scare in the early contests. Buchanan again ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1996, and stood as the (Ross Perot) Reform Party’s Presidential candidate in 2000. He remains a prominent conservative voice in the US media, he was a vocal opponent of the neo-Conservative push for war in Iraq, and is the author of several books including ‘Where the Right Went Wrong’.

Here Pat Buchanan talks about the sort of old style ‘retail politics’ still required to compete for the Presidential nomination, his proximity to Presidential power over half a century, and some of the Nixon-era campaign tactics that came to be known as ‘Watergate’.

Buchanan also talks about his own campaigns that cost one Bush the Presidency, and inadvertently won it for another.

 

Video

 

Transcript

John Barron: Can you tell us about retail politics as a Presidential candidate, campaigning particularly in those early-to-vote [primary and caucus] states like Iowa and New Hampshire?

Pat Buchanan: Well the days are very long, you get up in the dark and generally when we started out in the late-winter when the ground was frozen, then you’d see the corn planted and grow knee-high by July then you’d see the corn harvested in the fall and the snows come and then you vote – so it was a full year campaigning in Iowa.

When you start off initially you go to town after town after town – you go into the town square, there’s usually a restaurant on that town square where folks gather, your advance people have gotten out as many of your friends as they could by calls around the town and you speak to them And you go from one town to another to another and you wind up usually in a city; small or medium sized at night and you have a rally at 7pm and you go out to dinner and hopefully you’ll get a minute or two on the 11.30 News at the TV station if you are in one of the larger places that have television. It is a very long, arduous process – you go all over the state, you come to understand its people very well and then there’s the Straw Poll in August [in Ames, Iowa, five months before the caucus] which is the event that really tests the strength of your campaign organisation, the loyalty and allegiance of your people and of course your resources, because you have to get them out to Ames in the Great Straw Poll. And the advantage of course goes to the people with the money because they can buy the position up closest to the stadium or the arena and their troops walk in first. And they also can hire more buses than you can to bring them in.

So it’s a complete test of an organisation and a campaign and a candidate, but what is wonderful about New Hampshire and Iowa is that a candidate without the physical resources of money and wealth and rich backers can beat an established candidate because you can organise the people because you have time to do it – in both Iowa and New Hampshire. But when you run nationally it’s much more difficult – that’s why you’ve got to make your case in Iowa and knock off the competition and then get into the finals.

John Barron: Given that a lot of candidates since the early-to-mid 1970’s have seen the advantages you can gain from Iowa - so you are not out there alone there are others in their Winnebago’s and buses going from town-to-town as well - how do you win the votes needed for a strong showing early on?

Pat Buchanan: You have got to be a better candidate. Your ideas have to be more in tune with what the people want, your personality has to prevail over the other candidates. And it’s good to have money but candidates with money have been crushed in Iowa. But I think this is a real test of the man and his ability to communicate and his personality. For example, in Iowa, the way we communicated – because we didn’t have great resources for television – was use free radio. The day of the Iowa Caucuses from 6am until 10am I was on thirty radio stations, each of them for five minutes and I had my message down cold and I did it from my hotel room with my aide bringing me coffee and he had set up each of these radio stations and we went down one after another after another and called in and repeated the three major issues that we had, and this really enabled us to close within three points of [Senator] Bob Dole (R-KA) the [1996] frontrunner – but before that we had to eliminate [Senator] Phil Gramm (R-TX) who was before me the principal challenger, and to do that we found an earlier state where Gramm had been seeded – the state of Louisiana – and you went down there and worked and worked and worked and upset him and beat him and that knocked him down in Iowa.

So this is like a world war, and my strategy in 1996 was that you knew Dole had the resources as he was the establishment’s candidate, and my job was to first clear the field of all of the Conservatives who were challenging me and to emerge as the Conservative challenger to Dole, whom I felt I could beat in a one-to-one contest, and we succeeded, the strategy worked, there was only one flaw; which is one of the people we eliminated [Billionaire businessman Steve Forbes] who finished fourth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire happened to have $60-million could stay alive.

John Barron: Has that been a distortion on the role that Iowa and New Hampshire has played that we now can see cashed-up candidates continue to live post those early votes with a big war chest or as we’ve seen more recently [2008] some big money candidates like [Rudy] Giuliani say ‘let’s skip it’...?

Pat Buchanan: It has. That’s been one of the problems there. A candidate who doesn’t go out there with resources who has to make his case based on his ability to communicate and win the hearts and minds of the people, if he fails in Iowa and New Hampshire, he’s failed, he’s gone. I accept that and I think that’s fair – those are not unfair states, they have different constituencies; you have to be a big champion of ethanol or become one in Iowa and we all understand that and New Hampshire [state motto] is “Live Free or Die” and if you are in favour of taking away people’s guns you’d better pass New Hampshire. So you have to know these things, but other than the idiosyncrasies of the various states they are a very fair contest where outsiders and individuals can challenge a political establishment which is getting an iron grip on the presidency of the United States and passing it back and forth between two elites – the elites of the Republican party and the elites of the Democratic Party. Here’s the greatest office on earth, the most important, the most prestigious, and it’s basically under the control of these two institutions who tend to deliberately block outsiders. They won’t let you in the debates for example, which are the real contest that decide the presidency.

John Barron: You say that the debates play a significant role in the process now?

Pat Buchanan: Oh in the [2000] general election, once [Ralph] Nader and I were out of the debates we were out of it in terms of winning – which we probably never had a chance – but in terms of really establishing our two separate parties [Greens and Reform] as valid parties. And the two people who were co-chairmen of the debate committee were the former chairman of the Republican Party and the former chairmen of the Democratic Party and they do have a common interest in keeping the third parties out unless perhaps they could siphon off votes from one or the other.

John Barron: You are perhaps uniquely positioned having worked in the media, having worked in the White House and run your own Presidential campaigns – what do you think of the roll the media plays in the Presidential election process?

Patrick J. BuchananPat Buchanan: You know everybody has certain advantages, but frankly it was my ability to write speeches first for Nixon then Ronald Reagan, Vice President [Spiro] Agnew and everyone, so you have an ability to write speeches, and because you are on TV you have an ability to communicate and you also have huge name-recognition which others don’t have. That gave me an advantage that others used their money to get. And so I think that people could criticise me for having those advantages. However you are talking about the role of free media. The media can, there’s no doubt about it, have a real bias, a general media bias against Conservative-Republicans, old fashioned on moral, social and cultural issues, that tends to favour moderate candidates or candidates who will defy the Republican orthodoxy. Frankly when I challenged President George [H.W] Bush I got excellent media when I challenged President Bush because a lot of them [in the media] wanted me to beat him.

And I got excellent coverage when I was running in early 1996, but after I won the New Hampshire primary I remember going to Arizona, and I called my sister [Bay Buchanan] who was managing my campaign and I said ‘what’s the coverage looking like?’ and she says ‘you don’t want to know.’ And so they all come down on you with both feet. Fortunately I didn’t read all of that until long after the race was over [laughs] it was very disheartening [laughs again].

John Barron: They talk about the collective mind if the punditry – some even go so far as to say every Presidential election since 1972 (when the nomination contest became more about winning elected delegates in primaries and caucuses than simply winning the endorsement of the party establishment) has been determined by the media - do you agree?

Pat Buchanan: I think that’s right – I think the media has had an enormous impact. This is the ‘great herd of independent minds’. After Iowa and New Hampshire [in 1992] they were all saying the Bush era is over, and some of them were actively cheering this and came out of the closest. I think [Senator] Eugene McCarthy (D-WI) was right when he said the media is like blackbirds sitting on a wire, when one flies off they all fly off, and when one flies back they all fly back. And I think that is very true, there is a herd instinct there, but secondarily there is a clear bias for particular candidates – in favour of them – it certainly helped John McCain and kept him going, I think it helped Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and by the fall of that year [1992] I was campaigning for President Bush whom I had challenged and I don’t believe he got a single positive story in that fall election and it was very, very difficult for him to overcome that lead, although he was overcoming it as he came down to the end of that campaign – he closed an enormous deficit.

You can beat the media, Nixon did it. We did it in 1972, we had enormous resources in the White House and you can fight back. If you a candidate without the resources and you are up against the opposition party, the opposition candidate and the party’s are fairly evenly divided and they have a press corps following them in a bus which is basically part of their campaign – as Jack Kennedy did in 1960 – they all got on the bus and sang anti-Nixon songs – when you have something like that [against you] it is almost impossible to win.

John Barron: In that 1972 election...

Pat Buchanan: A happy memory (laughs).

John Barron: Tell us how that worked – there is a view that you and others in the White House were able to encourage the media to portray [Senator] George McGovern [1972 Democratic Presidential nominee] as being more Liberal than he was and that helped in his defeat.

Pat Buchanan: Well we didn’t persuade the media [laughs]. Look, I did the opposition research on Senator McGovern at the behest of the President, and you had piles of clippings and you read all these books and you do all the research and you go through it and all of a sudden tiny gems pop out. One of them for example, McGovern, I found out, had on three occasions had compared Richard Nixon to Adolf Hitler, and so they were buried in books but you take this statement and we had what we called the ‘9.15 Group’ – later became known as ‘The Attack Group’ – but we met at 9.15 in {White House Chief of Staff Chuck] Colson’s office, I provided the research and Colson controlled the surrogates – very powerful figures like [Treasury Secretary] John Connally (D/R-TX) and [Senator] Bob Dole (R-KA) who could get media. So you take the research, put it in the speeches and all the surrogates hit the same theme all day long, and they go after him – some of them followed McGovern and some of them went ahead of McGovern and you keep forcing this question: ‘how can you compare the President of the United States to a mass-murderer like Adolf Hitler? He ought to apologise, he ought to apologise!’

Buchanan campaignThe media picked that up, and they went to McGovern and they asked him to apologise for calling Richard Nixon Adolf Hitler, and so you move these things into the mainstream. The mainstream wasn’t collaborating with us – we had sufficient resources that we were able to force issues onto the table. And of course it worked. Then there was his one thousand dollar Demo-grant, and then he had recommended a two-thirds cut in defence – we weren’t allowed to ask the Defense Department what that would do because that’s political – so we sent it up to a friend on the Hill (Capitol Hill) and they asked the Defense Department what a two-thirds cut would mean and the Department tells the Hill that it would mean we’d have to pull the sixth fleet out of the Mediterranean. And then you put this out in the Jewish community what this is going to do to Israel. And that’s legitimate, and we hammered him on that. And then we got a list of all of the bases that would have to be shut down and you run radio ads outside the bases around the country – you’ve got sixty bases and you say ‘If McGovern is elected this base will be shut down’ – and these things are all valid, but that’s us forcing the issue.

There are three people that make issues; your candidate makes issues, the media makes issues and the people make issues.

Candidates can make-up issues; Jack Kennedy’s ‘Missile Gap’ (with the USSR) was made up. Eisenhower didn’t have any missile gap with the Russians – Kennedy had all those weapons he’d threaten the Russians with in the [Cuban] missile crisis a year later. So Kennedy made that up and he got away with it with the collusion of the media. It’s all about who controls the agenda of the day and who controls the conversation and who controls what the American people are thinking when they go into the voting booth.

Now when we had them going into the voting booth in 1972 for example; did we want them thinking ‘what a swell guy Richard Nixon is’? No, a lot of people didn’t think Richard Nixon was a swell guy. We wanted them thinking ‘we cannot have George McGovern in the White House with these views’. And so you had them focus on the opponent which had us win over 60% and 49 states. It was a very successful campaign – unfortunately a lot of my friends went to prison [hearty laughter].

It wasn’t because of our campaign though – I guess it was because some of the things the boys were doing were a little overly-enthusiastic about our cause.

John Barron: Why were the stakes so high – was it a belief that McGovern would have been a bad President?

Pat Buchanan: George McGovern is a good man personally; I’ve come to know him. But George McGovern was – look we were very concerned about losing the war in Vietnam – I mean we had lost 50,000 people there and Nixon was moving them out in sufficient time over four years to preserve that, or we thought to preserve South Vietnam which our guys had died for. And George McGovern was a very, very Liberal candidate – the most left-wing candidate ever nominated in American politics for a major party, and this was a battle for the White House – the most powerful office on earth, and it was a cause for all of us. And it’s not all cynical; many of us came into this for reasons that we were very concerned for our country. The conservative movement was brought together by concerns of the disintegration of society because of Supreme Court decisions and the failure of the political establishment of the country to successfully cope with the greatest threat to Western Civilisation in the 20th Century which was the Soviet Empire, the Soviet Union and communist ideology. So these were all very, very serious matters. But when you get down to a campaign the question is – you are in a serious battle in this campaign and you have to win this if you are going to win that.

John Barron: Given the proximity you had to a number of presidents, to then make that decision to run your own campaigns – it’s quite something to say ‘I want to be the most powerful person on earth’.

Patrick J. BuchananPat Buchanan: You usually don’t say that yourself! [Laughs] Well with me it was... George H.W. Bush was a friend of mine. My wife and I used to go to his Vice Presidential mansion for all of his Christmas parties for eight years. When I moved out to north-west Washington and was unloading my books the first people at the door where George and Barbara Bush with a bottle of champagne and Muggs – “J. Fred Muggs” their dog with them. [Muggs was named after a well-known TV Chimp from the 1950’s and 60’s.] And I supported George Bush for the Presidency, and I was on television supporting him and I believed him when he said ‘no new taxes’ and I said he’s not going to raise taxes, he’s given his word. And then he broke his pledge and then I opposed the war in Iraq which was a tremendous success for him, so any thought I had of challenging him in the primaries were gone. But the idea of challenging him came because I had become – now that Ronald Reagan had gone home – astounded at the direction he was taking the Republican Party – and so was Ronald Reagan surprised. We didn’t like what he [Bush] was doing, he made one decision after another and he signed a quota bill – imposing racial quotas on small businesses all over America - they denied it was a quota bill but Teddy Kennedy and others were laughing and saying ‘this is George Bush capitulating to us’. And he had. This was in November 1991.

I said to myself; ‘George Bush is a friend but he’s not a Conservative and this is not the cause I believe in, and somebody has got to raise the flag of the Conservative movement and nobody else is doing it’. And it was one night after that quota vote that I was driving up the G.W. Parkway, driving back and forth, and I said; I’m going to run against him. And I had a friend, Nackey Loeb who owned the [conservative New Hampshire Newspaper] The Manchester Union Leader and she ran a front page editorial with a front page RUN PAT, RUN! And so ten weeks before the New Hampshire Primary I just decided to do it, and there was my sister [Bay Buchanan] and myself and we just went up to New Hampshire and surprise, surprise we had about one hundred reporters waiting for me. I think they all thought it was a lark.

We had an enormously successful opening kickoff, got great national reception, we had demonstrators trying to break it up which just added to all the interest. We skipped Iowa because you couldn’t contest Iowa in ten weeks and you had one shot in New Hampshire. And the second time I went up nobody greeted me except a cop at the airport – so you realise this is a very lonely thing, you go from one small town to another to another and you have people on the ground to get the crowds out, but mainly I used what we call ‘free media’. I’d go on radio stations, on television stations, I’d be driven all over the state, anywhere you’d go – my friend Chuck Douglas, who managed my campaign said ‘if the press wasn’t there, it didn’t happen’. You can have a wonderful rally but if the press wasn’t there it didn’t happen. So we worked at it and we worked at it and worked at it – and you know we started getting traction and the polls started at 16% and he was at 80% and the polls had me moving up to 30% and sure enough, here comes Air Force One into New Hampshire! I tell you it’s an awesome thing to be sitting up there watching television and seeing Air Force One with Bush coming down the red carpet after you.

It was a very moving moment. We took that occasion to get some TV cameras to go over to the unemployment office and shake hands with the unemployed to twin that with him arriving there. Our issue was that Bush had pledged not to raise taxes and he’d raised taxes, and there was a recession – a depression in New Hampshire – and how could George Bush cure it when he wouldn’t even admit it was there. And that was a very powerful argument. And he was going down the lines and some woman there said ‘Mr President are you going to sign the pledge?’And he said ‘Oh, what pledge is that?’ and she said ‘pat Buchanan’s tax pledge’ and he said ‘Pat Buchanan, I’m going to kick his...’ and he stopped but we saw that clip over and over again!

That lead to a lot of merriment, and frankly lead to an extremely successful campaign – he only beat us by 14-points, we came within 14-points of the President of the United States in a state [New Hampshire] where he had the endorsement of every major politician, he had all the resources, he had the organisation and everything. And it really sent a message he should have gotten – ‘you are out of touch with this country, Mr President, you are out of touch with the Conservative movement and you are out of touch with your party. You might be up on Constitution Avenue with all of the Army of Desert Storm marching down just a few months before in victory, but you are out of touch with the country.’ As someone said, the alarm went off and he hit the snooze button and went back to sleep.

John Barron: Were you concerned you were just doing what Ted Kennedy helped to do to President Carter (in 1980) – show how to beat this guy come the November election - that you were doing the opposition’s work for them?

Pat Buchanan: Well there’s no doubt that’s one of the considerations. You realise that if I go out there and wound this guy he’s going to be wounded for the general election. But my feeling was that you have to weigh these things – and you do – you weigh all of these factors. To me, I was a Republican because I was a Conservative. There’s no doubt nobody will say now that George Bush ran a conservative administration. A lot of people that criticised me and called me names now concede that Bush was not a conservative and was not governing in that way. So therefore what should conservatives do? Should we salute because he’s the Republican candidate and the Republican President or should you run against him and take the risks that we took? I supported George Bush Senior at the Convention and campaigned for him in the fall. But his son [George W. Bush] believes I am responsible – he said ‘Pat put in the first 100 knife wounds and Perot did the rest.’ I think that Perot did far more damage to President Bush than I did but there’s no doubt he was a goner in New Hampshire in the general, we exposed him there, and we exposed a lot of his weaknesses there’s no doubt about it.

John Barron: Is it fair to say that in the ’92 campaign that you weren’t running expecting to be sworn-in as the next President of the United States?

Buchanan campaignPat Buchanan: You have to have in the back of your mind the possibility. Let me tell you of an incident – i think it was January 15th 1992 – I was in a hotel in Boston and I was awoken by NBC News and they said ‘do you have a comment on the fact that President Bush has collapsed in Tokyo?’And my heart went to my throat – I didn’t know what they were talking about, I thought he’d had a heart attack or something like that. And then I put on the television and he’d had an upset stomach and flu, but the thought occurred to me that Bush might stand down the way Lyndon Johnson did [in 1968]. Look there was no way I could beat George Bush in 33 primaries and take the nomination away from him, what I thought I might be able to do was knock him down in the first round and then he’d say ‘it aint worth it’ – like Lyndon Johnson did after Eugene McCarthy knocked him down and Bobby Kennedy got into the race. If that had happened, despite the Republican establishment I would have been the nominee because by the time of the New Hampshire primary, the [candidate] filing deadline had passed for 30 states and they weren’t going to beat me in 30 states with write-in candidates [one who’s names aren’t on the ballot]. So you could have been the Republican nominee.

John Barron: When considering that possibility do you look inward – knowing first-hand, having seen so many Presidents in action – and ask whether this is a job you have it in you to do?

Pat Buchanan: Oh I wouldn’t have run if I didn’t think I had it in me to do. I’ve worked with – I’ve know all of the Republican Presidents since Eisenhower I guess – I didn’t know General Eisenhower, I was a caddy at Burning Tree (a Michigan Golf Course) in those days so we weren’t good friends! (laughs) But I’ve known them all and I’ve known their strengths and weaknesses and abilities and I had no doubt that I had in many cases abilities equal or superior to theirs and in some deficient to theirs, but I never had any doubt about my ability to handle the office.

John Barron: Do you think all (Presidential) candidates who run have that conviction or are there some that do it for other purposes – recalibrating their parties’ agendas and policies – are there other reasons they run other than thinking ‘I want to be the next President’?

Pat Buchanan: It’s both. Everybody I’m sure – almost everybody who runs thinks there’s a possibility, even a long-shot, that I can make it. Clearly I was doing both in 1992: it was to raise the banner of Conservatism and say ‘George (H.W.) Bush is not a Conservative’ and here’s the Conservative position – and also to take new positions on immigration, on trade and on social and cultural issues – to take positions opposite [to] the administration and to impose those onto the Republican platform which we did in 1992 and ’96. At the same time with the outside chance in ’92 that you could win. So you do both and there’s nothing wrong with that in my judgement. But there are some candidates just looking to influence debate – maybe Ralph Nader: I don’t think he ever thought he would win the Presidency – I certainly didn’t think I would win it when I ran as the Reform Party candidate (in 2000) – but I thought I might be able to create a new party. So there are a variety of reasons there and I think the people that run to raise issues and change the direction of policies – take (Representative) Tom Tancredo (in 2008) – he first raised the issue of illegal immigration and then all the candidates adopted his position.

The ones who fail are the ones who just say ‘I want to be President’ – but I do think the folks who do try to use this Presidential nominating process to reshape or redirect American policy, I think they are performing a service, whether they are left, right or centre. I think Senator McGovern ran in part to be President of the United States – he didn’t have much of a chance in ’72 – but also I think to redirect American politics and redirect the Democratic Party into becoming a peace party, an anti-war party and what they call a Neo-isolationist party – in other words to get us out of the cold war conflict with the Soviet Empire – and that was clearly his objective.

John Barron: Your second Presidential campaign of 1996, after the experience of ’92 – this time you are running against a Democrat (Bill Clinton) in the White House – how was that different?

Buchanan on Time magazine coverPat Buchanan: What was immediately different was that I had a real chance to be nominated or a long-shot chance if I could get a one-on-one with Senator Dole. So we announced very early, you had candidates in the race by the time we announced – and it was a much longer, arduous process – there was a year of campaigning before the primaries began... but in terms of what you did at the local level it was similar. In this case I was campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire with side-visits to South Carolina and places like that.

It was similar but much longer and you needed a strategy – we had a strategy to get momentum from early primary victories and caucuses that no one else was aware of – we went to Alaska for example and won the caucuses up there and I went to Louisianna where I alone challenged (Senator Phil) Gramm and knocked him off down there. And then we moved into Iowa and Gramm collapsed and our support rose and we came within three points of Dole in Iowa and then we came to New Hampshire and we beat him. And so the momentum strategy had worked! But we had two problems: one I had made a commitment in New Hampshire that I wouldn’t campaign in any state that [voted] within a week of New Hampshire, so I couldn’t go to Delaware and (Steve) Forbes bought it. And then when I got to Arizona he’d had four million worth of advertising there and he also had sent out early ballots so he had them all piled up. So when I got there people were saying ‘I want to ote for you but I’ve already voted.’ And so he successfully split the anti-Dole vote and broke our momentum. I can tell you when I found out; I was in Georgia, we had four thousand people at a huge rally, two thousand inside and two thousand outside, the fire marshals closed the door and locked (Conservative Fox News Commentator) Sean Hannity out – he remembers that to this day - and I went up and spoke and it was tremendous rally. And my sister [Campaign Manager Bay Buchanan] said we are getting the returns out of Arizona, and I understand they had written congratulatory telegrams to me based on early voting but we lost in a three-way ties, we basically came in third, the momentum was go and so you lost Georgia and you lost South Carolina, which was the next contest.

John Barron: In that lengthy campaign, as a candidate how conscious are you of the need to be raising money?

Pat Buchanan: I didn’t raise any money – I mean I didn’t do any of the fund-raising myself. I didn’t make any phone calls, I just wouldn’t do that, I don’t do it. So the way we raised money in those days was by direct mail and we were a cause-candidate like Barack Obama – although he raised it by big fund-raisers. All of our funds were raised by direct mail, working mailing lists – we must have had 150,000 names or more of people who have contributed and the average they gave was $60. Now the problem was [in 1996] we were up against Dole whose average contributor was closer to $1000 – he had fewer of them – but ours were all matched by the Federal Government because they were small contributions. We would hold small fundraisers – the biggest fundraiser I ever had was in South Carolina for $80,000 where my friend the multi-millionaire Roger Milliken who has one of the largest privately-owned companies in the country – and it was an $80,000 fund raiser. On Phil Gramm’s first night he raised $4 million at a fundraiser – so we knew they were going to raise more money but some of those guys didn’t spend it wisely.

John Barron: In our [Australian] system there isn’t the same need for candidates to raise money, can you explain how it works – if a benefactor or fundraiser gets together a group of people who are willing to support your campaign – is that a gift?

Pat Buchanan: It’s a political contribution. We didn’t get PAC money (Political Action Committees established to raise and disperse funds for certain political causes) – just a couple of pro-life (anti-abortion) PAC’s because I’m pro-life. But we didn’t get any (other) PAC money at all and there’s no doubt Roger Milliken backed me because I have changed my views since the 1980’s and become a critic of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and what these trade agreements were doing to the United States – that’s one of the reasons I ran against (George H.W) Bush.

But people come to you after you’ve raised your ideas – the right-to-lifers came to me because I was known nationally as a right-to-lifer, and Roger Milliken came to me because I was an economic nationalist, or an economic patriot who believed the trade deals we were signing were killing us! Killing manufacturing – and I was articulating that and the people who support that cause gravitate towards you. So it’s not that somebody said “if you change your position on this we’re going to give you so much money”. I mean you don’t get any money for saying we ought to bring the troops home from South Korea and Germany and we are over-extended as an empire – you might get some academics writing nice things about you but those aren’t money-makers.

John Barron: For all the people who donated in the 2008, will the President get phone calls from people donated millions of dollars expecting to be heard on issues – does it work into the future as well as supporting a policy during a campaign?

Pat Buchanan: Well in the old days – the Nixon days – our finance guy would call up businessmen and say “you’re down for $50,000” (laughs) ... and those were pre-Watergate days. But look the days of the Independent candidate challenging the machines that can raise $100-million are over. You know when I knew it was all over? George (W) Bush announced before he announced for President (in 1999) that he had already had $36 million in the bank (laughs). So he can sleep in Austin (Texas) and his ads can run all across the state when you are travelling in a rented bus.

John Barron: As a third-party candidate in 2000, what were your expectations?

Pat Buchanan: Well I went into it with the expectation that we could create a party. I was at something like 15% in the national polls in a three-way race, and my expectation was to get into the debates, which I thought would be my strength. (Then) we’d create a party that would leverage the Republican Party at the next election – “here’s what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to drop these ideas, do this and merge these parties and win”. And that of course entailed the risk of the Republican Party [in 2000] losing the Presidency of the United States. We spent almost a year and gotten the [Reform] Party on the ballot in all 50 states – it was a tremendous accomplishment. I talked to my friend Ralph Nader and he asked “How did you do it in North Carolina?” and I said we just sent our whole campaign to North Carolina where you needed 60,000 signed supporters. But then the Republican Party filed suit to get us knocked off the ballot in Michigan, and as I said to someone, if you think it’s tough to fight City Hall, just try trying to overthrow the government of the United States!

John Barron: Did you find there was a closing of ranks by both the Republicans and the Democrats against this third force?

Pat Buchanan: There wasn’t a closing of ranks, the Republicans were trying to get me knocked off the ballots and the Democrats were doing the same to Nader because Nader threatened the Democratic Party and I threatened the Republican Party. And in the end, you know they blame me for Gore’s defeat because of Palm Beach County (in Florida) but in the end if you look at it closely although my vote was small, the Buchanan vote was the margin by which Bush lost four states: Minnesota, New Mexico, Wisconsin and either Nevada or Iowa. When you get into a 50-50 race you don’t need that many votes to sink a candidate – and that’s one threat Third party candidates can make.

John Barron: having been through as many campaigns as you have, how do you view that quirk of the electoral system in Florida where there was a ‘butterfly ballot’ and votes that were maybe meant for Al Gore and went to you instead?

Pat Buchanan: Not maybe! (Laughs heartily) They punched GORE and BUCHANAN ... probably 75% of the votes I got were Al Gore’s, and I would say 95% of the spoiled votes from two punches were Al Gore’s and so if it hadn’t been for that ballot in Palm Beach County, Gore would have been President of the United States... if Nader had not been on the ballot, Gore would have been President of the United States. Third Party candidates have some influence.

John Barron: Does that make you think, well that’s the nature of this funny system that you have, or do you feel a sense of personal responsibility – how do you feel about that?

Pat Buchanan: I feel just fine. You know, I didn’t invent that ballot, frankly by the end of the campaign I was in favour of George (W) Bush. But there’s no doubt about it, when they asked me the next day and at that stage we didn’t know about all of the spoiled ballots (with two votes) that 75% of my votes were Al Gore’s – and I think that that is about right. But of the spoiled ballots there was even more... that butterfly ballot is the reason George W. Bush became President of the United States, and I guess that I have to carry that on my conscience.

John Barron: Give that elections can turn on such small things, the way a ballot is designed, a few votes here or there, and the stakes are so incredibly high in Presidential politics – what does that say to you?

Buchanan campaignPat Buchanan: There is no doubt that the inadequacy of the voting system in the United States is appalling – as it is I assume everywhere – there are so many ballots cast when you’re talking about 120 million votes, but fortunately we have an electoral college where if there are votes stolen or there is a disaster it only applies to one state. But when you get a race as close as the Bush-Gore race that decided the Presidency of the United States, it decided the war in Iraq and the votes Gore lost in Palm Beach County to me made George Bush President of the United States. But that ballot was designed by someone who was originally a Democrat and I don’t think there was any malice in it, it was one of those mistakes and the mistake happened and it was portentous wasn’t it? Certainly was.

John Barron: So, of all of the things we’ve talked about today; the role of the early states, the role of the media, what the Presidency involves – to run for it, to do the job, what would you do to improve the process by which America chooses it’s President?

Pat Buchanan: I favour, very much, the system we’ve had. I favour a series of small states like Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada a Western State, put in South Carolina, in order that candidates that have ability and communication skills who are willing to work hard and have ideas, so that they can rally constituencies in states where they can put up a good fight and then get into the finals. Because if you start off with a national primary or regional primary - you know what that will do? That will validate the Gallup Poll. California is a nation. You raise 25 or thirty million (dollars) and you can get your voice heard, but no outside candidate can do that as well as you can raise two or three million before an Iowa straw poll. So I like the idea of three or four small states before you break out into the larger blocks – the way we have it now. Maybe it’s bias, but I am a believer that we need some outside, fresh blood in this process because this process in this city (Washington DC) is corrupt. Not that they are thieves, but in the sense that that come up through the Republican ranks they pay their dues, they are told how to vote on this issue and that issue – because that’s what the boys on K-Street (lobbyists) want. And you move up as a young congressman, you move into the senate and backbenchers ... and by the time you get up there to the point you can run for President, I think you have been compromised up and down the line.

In terms of money, if you have $100 million you can buy your way into the finals. And I don’t know how you can deal with that, to tell people they can’t spend their money on their candidacy. Maybe there ought to be limits on how much can contributed, maybe you ought to set limits in states on how much you can spend there – I would go along with things like that and try to create a more level playing field. But you don’t want to take away some bodies right to go out and run for, say, Governor of Virginia and then say they can’t buy ads and introduce themselves. So you’ve got to try to create fairness – you can’t get it done but you can probably approximate it.

John Barron: At the end of the process, does America get the President that is the best or the candidates?

Pat Buchanan: Look we’ve got a $14 Trillion economy which is a hugely complex system, we are involved in a number of wars and we’ve got a community organizer from south Chicago... with a bad drug problem in the past. Does it get the best candidates? No. I’ll tell you why; I don’t think politics and the political system automatically bring to the top the toughest, wisest, best, most talented, most knowledgeable people, I think it brings to the top the best politicians. Do I think Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton – with all of his problems with the ladies – would they all have been in office if we’d had this present system? I doubt it. I doubt George Washington with his wooden teeth would have been very articulate.

John Barron: Well, many thanks indeed for your time.

Pat Buchanan: Thank you, I enjoyed it.

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Joe Trippi

Joe Trippi
Campaign Manager for
Howard Dean '04 and
John Edwards '08