The last angry white male runs again for the top job


Washington -- PAT BUCHANAN, before he became rich and famous as a TV pundit, grew up in this town as a tough Irish kid who worked off his energies fighting cops and rival gangs.

Hasn't changed much at 56.

His bellicose level still high, Mr. Buchanan is the political equivalent of a saloon brawler. Every four years there's a melee and he leaps in the middle, fists flying, feet kicking.

But Republicans cannot be pleased that the hell-raising, tart-tongued Mr. Buchanan has entered their 1996 sweepstakes that until now was a polite debating society. They cannot forget -- and some may never forgive -- that four years ago Pat Buchanan stalked, taunted and humiliated George Bush and helped destroy his presidency.

Now Mr. Buchanan's back for a re-run, disregarding F. Scott Fitzgerald's dictum that there are no second acts in American lives.

What can Pat the Pug do for an encore now that he no longer has Mr. Bush to kick around?

Well, if I were Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., I'd wear the Republican front-runner's crown uneasily. Like a bull who reacts to a red flag, Pat needs an authority figure to ignite his spoiler's style.

Mr. Buchanan thrives on animosity. Indeed, his campaign was less than 60 seconds old when it erupted into bedlam, bodies flying.

He had just begun his Manchester, N.H., presidential announcement when four protesters rushed the mike with signs: "Buchanan is David Duke Without a Sheet." They screamed, "Buchanan is a racist!"

For Mr. Buchanan -- who's withstood more darting epithets from Michael Kinsley on CNN's "Crossfire" -- the rhubarb guaranteed 30 network seconds.

"Now you know what we're fighting against," he told 175 fans.

His interlopers claimed to be members of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha. Although Mr. Buchanan denies anti-Semitism, he's questioned the number of Nazi extermination victims and called the U.S. Capitol "Israeli-occupied territory."

When Mr. Buchanan throws his hat in the ring, it's like flicking a Bic in a gas tank.

If Mr. Bush saw TV footage of Mr. Buchanan's opening brawl, he must have rolled his eyes, remembering Pat Buchanan gnawing at his leg like a pit bull in '92.

Wasn't enough that Buchanan called him "King George" or hammered his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge or embarrassed him with 37 percent in New Hampshire.

Or ran a ghastly TV ad showing gay black men in chains, intimating Mr. Bush was soft on pornography.

Republicans still powerful in the party tried to shush Mr. Buchanan in '92. Newt Gingrich warned he was "close to David Duke," the Louisiana Kluxer.

Jack Kemp said Mr. Buchanan "wants another Know Nothing Party." Bill Bennett charged Pat "flirted with fascism."

He wouldn't quit. Running on a shoestring and venom, Mr. Buchanan insisted, "Bush should stand down, he's becoming the Republican Jimmy Carter."

Mr. Bush's guys mocked Pat Buchanan's "America First" sloganeering by showing him driving a Mercedes-Benz.

Then came the Houston convention, a disaster led by Pat Buchanan's hate-filled screed for a "religious war." Pat insulted everyone but the Astrodome organist. Mr. Bush never recovered from the orgy of intolerance.

So why is Pat Buchanan back? Without George Bush to rant against, he's unlikely to rise above single digits.

He can't gripe about the GOP field, most of it to the right of Genghis Khan. Clearly Pat Buchanan loves campaigning grit and glory.

Nothing phony about his right-wing passion.

Notoriety keeps aflame his media image that pays $800,000 a year ($447,000 from "Crossfire").

Never mind that his '96 campaign pitch sounds shopworn, bombast recycled about a "cultural war" to "put our country first again."

Sure, Mr. Buchanan plays the populist chord, storming against NAFTA, GATT and Mexican bailout. That's Ross Perot territory, though. Mr. Buchanan would guard our borders with the National Guard and protect our young from lewd music.

"We were first to say no to tax hikes, no to quotas," Mr. Buchanan bragged. "Now every Republican says no to tax hikes, affirmative action and racial quotas."

Somehow, when Mr. Buchanan grabs credit for Republicans sweeping Congress, I doubt if Newt Gingrich applauds.

Maybe Mr. Buchanan's tirades against immigrants, gays, feminists, Wall Street and abortion constitutes his 1996 shtick -- The Last Angry White Male.

But if Republicans invite Mr. Buchanan to attack the rest of America in their '96 prime-time convention, you'll know this is a party with a death wish.

Above all, club-fighter Pat needs an enemy, a target inside the Republican party he can slam as an establishment patsy.

If I were Bob Dole, I'd look out for rabbit punches, groin kicks and eye gouges.

He could ask George Bush, who still bears Mr. Buchanan's knuckle marks.

Pat comes to hurt you.

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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