However strong the conservative consensus of the mid-1990s may have appeared at the dawn of the Republican Revolution, it soon came under sustained criticism from intellectuals excluded from Kristol’s “more comprehensive conservatism.”
The most coherent challenge came from the so-called paleoconservatives. Their main cause was the dramatic reduction of immigration. Their champion was the syndicated columnist, author, former White House official, and cable-television personality Patrick J. Buchanan. He had built his reputation as a smart, plainspoken pundit before making a transition into electoral politics. After a surprise showing as a protest presidential candidate in New Hampshire in 1992, Buchanan galvanized that year’s Republican National Convention with a speech both describing and advocating a “culture war” in the United States.
Buchanan launched his second run for the presidency on March 20, 1995. In his announcement, he singled out Senator Robert Dole of Kansas, the GOP front-runner, for supporting American membership in the World Trade Organization. Buchanan pledged to withdraw from the WTO and the newly minted North American Free Trade Agreement. He said he would remove U.S. troops participating in UN peacekeeping missions, build a wall along the southern border, and bar immigration for at least five years. “When I raise my hand to take the oath of office,” he said, “this whole New World Order is coming crashing down.”
Buchanan’s invocation of a sinister global conspiracy hinted at his populism’s dark side. He was a well-known opponent of the neoconservatives, and he laced his rhetoric with anti-Semitic tropes cleverly masked for plausible deniability precisely because he was so intelligent. He flirted with racists, anti-government extremists, and conspiracists. The chief theoretician of Buchanan’s movement, the newspaper columnist Samuel T. Francis, was fired from an editorial position at the Washington Times in 1995 after it was revealed that he had told an audience, “The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.”
Francis believed that conservatism was defunct. The label “conservative” was meaningless, he said, because Buckley’s movement had failed to generate support among the masses. He argued that the future of American politics hinged on “Middle American Radicals,” also known as the men and women from MARs. These were non-college-educated blue-collar workers disaffected from the electoral process and contemptuous of political, business, social, and cultural elites. They decided elections because they had no allegiance to either party.
According to Francis, the MARs seesawed between the economic nationalism of the left and the cultural nationalism of the right. Buchanan was the first Republican of the post–Cold War era to understand the importance of MARs. He campaigned for their votes by combining economic and cultural nationalism into one angry package. He and Francis introduced many of the terms and concepts that would come to dominate political discourse on the right—phrases like “the ruling class” and “globalism” and slogans like “America First.”
Search This Blog
Thursday, April 14, 2022
Matthew Continetti at Commentary: