It's Not Trump's GOP, it's Pat Buchanan'sRoundup
tags: Republican Party, conservatism, far right, Donald Trump, Nativism, Pat Buchanan
Ms. Hemmer is the author of Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s.
In May 1992, Pat Buchanan made his way to Smuggler’s Canyon along the U.S.-Mexico border, where migrants passed into the United States. A motley crowd had gathered for his news conference there: reporters still following his flagging campaign for president, Mexican migrants curious about the event (some of whom were running a pop-up refreshment stand to sell soda to Buchanan supporters), members of a far-right white-power group eager to hear a credible candidate make the case for sealing the border.
“I am calling attention to a national disgrace,” he told the crowd. “The failure of the national government of the United States to protect the borders of the United States from an illegal invasion that involves at least a million aliens a year.” Mr. Buchanan blamed that “illegal invasion” for a host of problems, ranging from drugs to the recent riots in Los Angeles. He called for a “Buchanan fence,” a trench and a barrier that would block migration from the south and become part of the infrastructure of what critics called Fortress America: a nation bound by impregnable barriers that kept out foreign people, foreign goods and foreign ideas.
By the time he arrived at Smuggler’s Canyon, it had been clear for months that Mr. Buchanan stood no chance of wresting the nomination from the sitting president, George H.W. Bush. But Mr. Buchanan was no longer aiming to win the presidency, if he ever was; he was aiming to win the party. He had long believed that “the greatest vacuum in American politics is to the right of Ronald Reagan,” that Reaganism’s days were numbered and that a new right was eager to be born. He would be the midwife to that new right, a pessimistic, media-savvy, revolution-minded conservatism that took root in the 1990s.
And while the new conservatism Mr. Buchanan hashed out in the 1992 campaign never attracted the impressive majorities that Reagan and Bush won in the 1980s, it nonetheless dislodged Reaganism as the core of the party in the decades that followed. In the process, the right learned that unpopular populist politics could win power even when they couldn’t win majorities. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 showed that a Buchananite politician could seize the presidency; his loss in 2020 showed how tenuous that hold on power could be. The question facing Republicans now is whether, having adopted the Buchanan model, they can rework it to win elections outright or they will continue to rely on its vision of democracy without majorities — or worse, no democracy at all.
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