Buchanan the crusader survives


When word came that Patrick J. Buchanan was let go by MSNBC after what had been a profitable and happy relationship, it forced one to recall that Buchanan’s 50-year career in politics and punditry should have ended at least three or four times prior to this breakup.

Yet again, Buchanan will return, said Timothy Stanley, the author of “The Crusader: the Life and Times of Pat Buchanan.”

Stanley, a writer for London’s Daily Telegraph, said the former Nixon speechwriter, driver and professional son, held back by ill-health from responding to the Media Matters campaign against him this winter, will soon sign on with a new media outlet just as strong as before.

It was good news for the book, released Feb. 14 (Thomas Dunne Books, 464 pages, $27.99), Stanley said, to have Buchanan in the news again.

In the preparation for the book, Stanley interviewed Buchanan extensively, which allowed him to produce a cooperative, but unauthorized biography. Many of the cooperating family members, and the friends and fellow travelers, took the opportunity to set the record straight and weigh in on their favorite vintage. None of it mean, some of it sad.

My path crossed with Buchanan’s when I volunteered to work for his New Hampshire primary campaign from the last weekend through the vote. It was Saturday morning; I was blocking access to a diner where Buchanan was having breakfast with locals. Opposing us was a television crew from PBS directing a confrontation between the candidate and some gay rights activists.

A small fight broke out, but public television was not ready for it.

Later, we were told to brace for Buchanan’s exit. Now, public television was ready, and their activists were on their marks ready to deliver their lines. The back door opened and we surged forward. Because our backs were to the diner, we learned from the disgusted faces in front of us it was a feint, and the candidate had gone out another way.

In another moment, I was in a van one morning with other volunteers, mating flyers with the windshields of cars parked outside of every church in the Manchester-area for Sunday services, still another smiling and dialing from the list of canvassed voters.

By Monday, everything was in flux. Frontrunner and then Senate Majority Leader Robert J. “Bob” Dole was supported by much of the Republican hierarchy, and Gov. Stephen E. Merrill made it his personal mission to deliver the Granite State to the man from Russell, Kansas.

When the weekend began, it was Dole’s race to lose, and by Monday afternoon, he had lost it. It was in the air that not only would Buchanan win the primary, but only Buchanan could take the fight to Clinton and beat him.

When the votes were counted Buchanan beat Dole 27 percent to 26 percent. After a short speech to supporters, Buchanan boarded a campaign bus for the airport and a rally in South Carolina. Then, it was off to Arizona for the coup de grace one week later. We all knew in Arizona, Buchanan would finish off Dole and the rest of them. How could he not?

Spoiler alert: In the week between New Hampshire and Arizona the world decided it preferred not to be turned upside down.

Once in Arizona, Buchanan donned a black cowboy hat and held a rifle high above his head to a cheering crowd and thrilled photographers. It was the opportunity Dole and Forbes were waiting for and they took it.

Buchanan would run for president one more time in 2000, but the closest he got to the White House was on the bus taking him away from the Manchester rally in 1996.

Stanley does a good job introducing Buchanan to non-movement Conservatives. For the uninitiated, “The Crusader” serves as a very good greatest hits album. For the initiated, there are plenty of deep tracks, too.

Yes, there is the Maureen Dowd-inspired narrative of the brawling Buchanan Boys tearing up 1950s Georgetown, the “Burn the Tapes” memo to Nixon’s bunker. 

What about the resignation on Air Force One flying home from Nixon’s visit to China? Yes, it’s in there. What about Buchanan’s Christmas party sucker punch of Columbia School of Journalism classmate Kim Willenson? Yes, it’s in there.

Drinks with Hunter S. Thompson? Yes. The backroom deal for the 1992 GOP Convention? Yes.

Stanley seemed to take special delight in retelling the story of the letter to his parents telling them his job writing editorials for the St. Louis Post Dispatch was a license to kill. Then, after stringing the reader along, before dropping on him the news that one of the targets of Buchanan’s relentless editorials, Warden Nash, killed himself.

One must have sympathy for anyone tasked with chronicling such a long and tumultuous career of a man constantly losing battles and winning wars, winning battles and losing wars. Buchanan as much as any man made Nixon president, and he was the one to tell the Nixon family it was time to pack.

Stanley quotes Thompson’s retort to Buchanan’s comparison of the just-ended Nixon administration to the Myth of Sisyphus: “Sisyphus got mashed… and Pat Buchanan will survive in the footnotes of history as a kind of half-mad Davy Crockett on the walls of Nixon’s Alamo — a martyr, to the bitter end, to a ‘flawed’ cause.”

Buchanan is the man who invented the unleashed TV punditry we all watch all hours of the day on the cable news channels, but since MSNBC ended their marriage, he is home watching along with us.

Will he be back?

Of course. The title calls Buchanan a “Crusader,” but the messge of the book is that he is the “Survivor.”