SAN DIEGO -- Only minutes after retired Gen. Colin L. Powell had left the delegates to the Republican Convention in a glow of party unity here Monday night, Patrick J. Buchanan, the principal symbol of division in the GOP, strode across the convention floor, surrounded by television cameras.
To a barrage of questions about what role he intended to play in the fall campaign, Buchanan, a loser for the second time in two tries for the GOP presidential nomination, said only that he would support the Dole-Kemp ticket and would be discussing with the winners' campaign what that role might be.
A blond woman in a bright red dress and hat on the fringe of the crowd of reporters and photographers shouted over to Buchanan. "Get with it! Get with the party!" screamed Marilyn Moriarty, a San Diego voter. "Get with Bob Dole!" Buchanan stared at her in surprise, not responding, and moved on.
Such comments sum up pretty well Buchanan's dilemma as he nurses the political wounds inflicted by a Dole campaign that refused to give him a chance to address the convention in person -- and risk the kind of divisive speech he unleashed in Houston four years ago.
Many of his supporters, who turned out in droves at a rally for him in nearby Escondido Sunday night, had urged him to stand aloof from Dole or even run as a third-party candidate. This sentiment was so strong that Buchanan felt obliged to explain to them at the rally that he was merely declaring a "truce at least for the next 10 weeks" and was not abandoning his own crusade to change the party.
"Some friends ask," he said, 'Why even go [to the convention], Pat, why even stay in a party some of whose leaders call us names and who will not even let you speak at your own convention?' But friends, this isn't just their party, it is our party, too. America does not need a third party. America needs a fighting second party."
Such comments seem to signal a third presidential bid in the future, especially if Dole and Jack Kemp lose in November. But if they "are elected and are a smashing success," he says, "I wouldn't challenge that, in my own party." In the meantime, he says, "we're suspending intraparty debate for the next 10 weeks, and then see what happens."
Unless Buchanan puts his own ambitions on the shelf, however, and campaigns for the ticket in a wholehearted way, the bitterness of the Marilyn Moriartys of the party isn't likely to fade.
Buchanan says he will "do what they ask me to do," but his enthusiasm is palpably restrained.
What will drive him between now and November, he says, is his view that the party has adopted "a Buchanan platform in which Buchanan ideas are respected," on abortion, fair trade, immigration, foreign policy and other key issues he claims as his own.
But even if he toes the line in the fall campaign, Buchanan's behavior during the primaries, and his late support for Dole, has left considerable intraparty bitterness that clouds Buchanan's future.
Former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a rival candidate this spring, says of that future: "That's for the primary voters to decide some day. But Pat Buchanan does not represent the future of the Republican Party. We don't want to build a wall around this country. We don't need lists of people we don't like. His tone is harsh and pessimistic. We're an inclusive and optimistic party."
Another failed 1996 presidential candidate, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, says that while "it appears that Pat is laying the groundwork for another possible candidacy, four years is a long time away and circumstances may or may not be favorable for that. And to give the impression that somehow the platform was seized by the Buchanans I think is incorrect."
Freshman Sen. Spencer Abraham of Michigan says Buchanan "has two choices for November -- Bob Dole, who shares many interests with him, and Bill Clinton." Abraham expressed surprise that Buchanan had come onto the convention floor, seemingly bent on keeping his own flame alive. "He's kind of making himself an outcast for no good reason," Abraham said.
Pub Date: 8/14/96