Trade-basher Buchanan shakes up the Republicans

CARL MOLLINS March 4 1996


Trade-basher Buchanan shakes up the Republicans

CARL MOLLINS March 4 1996



Trade-basher Buchanan shakes up the Republicans



On election-day morning last week in Manchester, a burly, middleaged man in a worn windbreaker wrestled a huge red-white-and-blue Pat Buchanan signboard above his shoulders at a downtown street corner. Almost invariably, the drivers of passing pickup trucks or delivery vans in New Hampshire’s biggest city (population 97,307) saluted with a wave and honking horns as the sign-lifter struggled against a damp winter wind. Heavy work, agreed the campaigner as he rested his weighty board on the curb for a moment. And as he spoke, the explanation of his efforts echoed again and again among voters like him in New Hampshire’s bellwether presidential nominating election: “Pat speaks up for the working man.” Buchanan also speaks up as a Republican rebel determined to shift American politics far to the right in social matters while standing as a champion of the worker against corporate America and its trading partners. His messages inspired enough New Hampshire voters to award the former White House speechwriter, TV panel host and columnist a thin but important victory. That gave the pugnacious

Buchanan a forward push in the Republicans’ state-by-state race for the right to challenge Democrat Bill Clinton in the November presidential election. Buchanan’s ascent forced the other presidential candidates, including Clinton, to address the part of his agenda that demands the protection of jobs against corporate downsizing and foreign competition. And his contagious America-first outcries against the North American Free Trade Agreement and global commerce treaties, along with the United Nations, provoked concern in Canada and among other U.S. trading partners. Gordon Ritchie, a Canadian negotiator of the 1989 U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, precursor to NAFTA in 1994, says Buchanan’s message means that Republican candidates and Clinton are likely to become more protective in trade policy. “Congress is already protectionist in mode,” he said in an interview. “You put all that together and I think you are going to get some ugly political rhetoric that is Canada-bashing and protectionist.”

In Washington, Buchanan’s win shook the Republican leadership, its favored candidate, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, and its fall-

back choice, former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander. And after New Hampshire, his opponents strove to organize a stop-Buchanan offensive. Dole warned that the presidential contest is now a struggle between “the mainstream and the extreme.” Labor leader John Sweeney, the new president of the AFL-CIO, spoke more bluntly: “Patrick Buchanan is a racist, he’s anti-Semitic, he bashes women right along with labor and immigration.” An array of Republicans, including New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, also denounced the candidate’s views on racial and other questions. Said Giuliani: “We’re going to do everything we can to stop Buchanan.”

But Buchanan seems to relish the prospects of a battle, an approach to life imbued in his youth, according to his 1990 autobiography, Right from the Beginning. He was born 57 years ago in Washington into a self-described “conservative Catholic” family whose heroes were Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and Senator Joe McCarthy, the virulent instigator of an anticommunist witch-hunt in the 1950s. His parents, he writes, “took fistfights as part of growing up.”

Now under attack from abroad as well as on his home turf, Buchanan hits back.

While preaching his “new conservatism of the heart” on the stump, he employs the boisterous terms of street talk, droppin’ his Gs and chortling often in appreciation of his own roustabout rhetoric. He describes his campaign as an uprising against the established political and corporate systems, with the power brokers under siege. ‘You watch the establishment of all the knights and barons, and they’re riding into the castle, pulling up the drawbridge real fast,” he said in his New Hampshire victory speech. “All the peasants are coming with pitchforks.”

At another point, he offered an explanation of the stop-Buchanan movement: “When big business feels threatened by my candidacy, then they’re all rustlin’ behind Bob Dole. The whole establishment is rushin’ together as rapidly as they can. We expected this. We knew when the breakdown came, they’d all be runnin’ together.” However,

To Dole, it is a struggle between ‘the mainstream and the extreme’

he taunted with a grin and a giggle, “I think it may be too late for ’em.”

Buchanan makes no bones about his purpose in adding an anti-trade left hook to his roundhouse right on social questions. He developed that extra punch, he explains, in order to distinguish his campaign from the otherwise similarly conservative lines preached by his Republican rivals. “That’s been working,” he said during campaigning in Iowa. Four years ago, in challenging George Bush (reaping 37 per cent of the New Hampshire nomination vote against Bush’s 53 per cent before fading in later primaries), he targeted taxes as well as abortion, gun control and immigrants. But Texas businessman Ross Perot won 19 per cent of the 1992 presidential vote as an independent while insisting that the thenproposed NAFTA would cause “a giant sucking sound” as American jobs drained to low-wage Mexico. Buchanan pinched the Perot line and coupled it with thundering denunciations of the current downsizing stampede in corporate America.

His crusade resonates far beyond New Hampshire. In the past three years, the layoffs announced by 10 top companies alone placed nearly 300,000 jobs on the chopping block. The federal government has sliced its civilian employment by another 115,000 in the same period. As well, U.S. employment statistics show that about 400,000 discouraged Americans have dropped out of the labor force, and 4.2 million people are in part-time work while looking for steadier jobs. The total of about 13 million unemployed, dropouts, part-timers and doomed-job people constitutes nearly 10 per cent of the civilian labor force.

The resulting fear and despair have been a rich source of Buchanan’s support. He set out on his quest for the Republican nomination with a low rating from pundits and pollsters. But in early party caucus nominations, he parlayed his maverick message into upset victories in Alaska and Louisiana and, then, to a challenging second place in Iowa. In New Hampshire’s primary election, the first in a string of more formal tests at the ballot box, Buchanan ran second to

Dole in Nashua, the state’s second city, and third behind Dole and Alexander in Concord, the state capital. But he won Manchester by margins of almost two to one against each of his two main rivals. And that gave him his statewide edge: 27 per cent of the total vote against Dole’s 26 per cent and Alexander’s 23 per cent. Magazine ownereditor Steve Forbes, who starred as a fast-rising outsider at the outset of the race, held on at 12 per cent, with plenty in personal wealth to bankroll the approaching multi-state election days. Buchanan forged his relatively low-budget victory with help from scores of

blue-collar volunteers like the signboard lifter in main-street Manchester.

The scenic and political backdrop to that street-corner electioneering show was partly visible down a short city block beside the Merrimack River. In total, it is a mile-long stretch of stalwart redbrick buildings, five and six storeys high. Once, they were textile mills, a mainstay of New England’s economy (and heavily staffed by immigrants from neighboring Quebec). Now, most are empty.

True enough, the milling of cotton began moving long ago to low-wage southern states or abroad. And New Hampshire’s unemploy-

ment rate, after a harder and longer struggle than many states against the post-1980s recession, is currently one-third lower than the national average. But in common with much of the rest of North America, job security in New Hampshire seems as much a thing of the past as lifelong careers in the mills. Those vacant buildings remain a nostalgic reminder of more stable lifestyles now gone. Manufacturing currently employs only one in five of the state’s workforce. More than one in four New Hampshirites are employed in the often ephemeral and lower-wage retail trade. During the past five years alone in New Hampshire, according to Buchanan, “20,000 manufacturing jobs are gone, the real wages are down five per cent and median family income is down 15 per cent.”

Now, Dole has begun to speak out against downsizing. And Clinton last week publicly questioned whether the Federal Reserve Board, the U.S. central bank, should be so single-mindedly waging an anti-inflation war at the expense of job-generating growth.

Some business analysts acknowledge that Buchanan may have a potent point. Among them are the economists of the Pittsburghbased Mellon Bank, whose newsletter appeared the day after the New Hampshire vote. While noting that “Buchanan’s diagnosis of these problems is misguided,” the report states that “statistics do seem to support Buchanan’s economic populism: economic inequality is increasing, as some CEOs’ compensation rises to 150 to 225 times that of their lowest-paid employees. Real hourly or weekly earnings have declined steadily in the past two decades. Equally telling, corporate layoffs, which hit a twoyear high in January, and the long-term decline in factory jobs, are fuelling job anxiety.” Buchanan has tapped into that anxiety to fuel his political crusade. The difference between his campaign and the efforts of his chief rivals came into sharp focus the day before the balloting in New Hampshire. It was Presidents’ Day, which marks the birthdays of George Washington, the nation’s first leader, and Abraham Lincoln, founder of the Republican Party. Dole went to small-town Milford in the south of the state and threw a traditional political rally. About 800 people turned out for a torchlight parade to the town hall and fireworks (Dole: “How’s this for excitement?”). The crowd heard the 72-year-old candidate, whose usual style is terse, oblique and distant, insist that, in fact, “I believe I’m a caring and sensitive person who cares about people who didn’t make it up the ladder.” Alexander journeyed to Portsmouth, the state’s main Atlantic port He led a straggle of about 200 supporters on foot through the town to a wharf-side park, his aides planting the route with placards proclaiming, “Lamar walked here!” As dark descended, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” struck up The Tennessee Waltz. The candidate, wearing his trademark red-and-black checked flannel shirt under an identically patterned windbreaker, introduced his wife, a daughter and his mother-in-law. He

then pronounced that he had just completed a foot march through the state begun last July. A claque of Democrats flaunting President Clinton placards hooted “Four more years” from a nearby bridge as the challenger led his audience in his ritual “A.B.C.” theme line, “Alexander beats Clinton.”

But for Buchanan, the main event on Presidents’ Day was a trip to a Timco Inc. sawmill at Center Barnstead, northeast of Concord, where officials blame Canadian lumber imports for hurting their sales. A pressing horde of about 200 reporters, photographers and cameramen pursuing the candidate prompted a mill boss to clear the complex. Outside, as the mill boss shouted at people to get down from log piles for fear of starting a wooden avalanche, Buchanan was reduced to bellowing his line at a media scrum and, laughing, to “any voters within 10 miles.” Repeating his sermon against free trade— three days after Washington and Ottawa had reached a five-year pact to regulate the lumber trade—Buchanan declared that Canadian imports “kill a lot of American jobs.” Said he: “All we want is fair competition with the Canadians—with countervailing duties on Canadian lumber.” Aware or not that the new lumber agreement forbids duties while curbing Canadian exports, Buchanan was making his main pro-worker point once again.

At a smaller scrum two days later in Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy fielded media questions over Buchanan’s widely quoted past remarks—delivered in his jocular mode—about building a Great Wall of China along the Canadian border to keep out the trade barbarians. Of Buchanan’s isolationist sentiment, Axworthy said, “I don’t think it represents the majority thought” in America. “The electoral process in the United States has a weird and wonderful path to run,” he added, and the final choice of the Republican nominee remained to be decided.

On primary election day at Manchester’s Ward 1 polling station, a midtown highschool gym, the public reaction to a campaign that old hands rate the roughest and rudest in memory seemed as calm and composed as the official response in Ottawa. The strongest statement in a series of interviews came from voter Clothilde Devine, a senior citizen who “used to be a Republican” but took the Democratic primary ballot this time to vote for Clinton. Why? “I certainly don’t like that passel of mudslingers that we have on the Republican ticket.”

Two of the mainstream Republicans, Dole and Alexander, together outpolled Buchanan by a wide margin. But there were plenty of blue-collar voters at the ballot boxes—men, typically, who appreciate a fight. And as powerful forces girded to try to stop Buchanan cold, those voters provided enough push to make the canny street fighter a potent contender in the next rounds of the U.S. state primaries—and, if he can somehow beat the odds against him, in the main bout beyond.