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Pat Buchanan retires as GOP increasingly channels its “America First” themes.

Pat Buchanan retires as GOP increasingly channels its “America First” themes.

As Republicans struggle through a difficult transition from being the party of business to the party of the working class, a conservative pundit whose track record anticipated this transformation 30 years ago is hanging up his pen.

Pat Buchanan has pulled out of his union column ahead of a presidential election that will test the resilience of a more populist and nationalist conservatism and after a midterm election cycle that demonstrated his growing pains.

In addition to his decades of commentary, Buchanan advised Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan as they built the “silent majority” in the GOP. He himself ran for office three times, on a platform similar to the one that got former President Donald Trump elected in 2016.


“What America means first is that we put the national interests of the United States first and the well-being of our own country and our own people. Our foreign policy, first and foremost, should be focused on the defense of American freedom, security and rights,” Buchanan told NPR two days after Trump took office.

It was a phrase widely regarded as discredited by World War II that Buchanan had been using since his 1990 national interest essay “America First, Second and Third.”

Originally a Cold War hawk and an advocate of free trade, Buchanan began to adopt a less interventionist foreign policy following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and trade policies designed to protect the US industrial base. He rejected the bipartisan consensus of the 1990s in favor of economic openness with China, dismissing then-General Secretary Deng Xiaoping as a “chain-smoking communist bastard.”

“[Alexander] Hamilton created the ‘American system’ to end our dependence on England and Europe, because he and Washington believed that economic independence was necessary for political independence,” Buchanan wrote. “If we were not dependent on Europe, they knew, we could stay out of Europe’s wars.Is all this Chinese made junk in the mall worth the loss of our economic independence?

“The looting of America for the benefit of foreign regimes ends the day I take office,” read a campaign flier during Buchanan’s 1996 bid for the Republican nomination. “If we can’t balance our own budget, what are we doing sending billions of tax dollars overseas to balance the budgets of foreign governments?”

That wasn’t the only area where Buchanan foreshadowed Trump’s appeal.

“We need a sea wall to stem the tide of illegal immigration and narcotics sweeping our southern border,” Buchanan’s campaign flyer said. “We need a ‘dead time’ for legal immigration, to assimilate and Americanize the millions who have come in recent decades.”

Long before Buchanan began to look different from a House Republican on trade, immigration or foreign policy, he was writing speeches for Spiro Agnew and memos pitching GOP presidents to disgruntled blue-collar Democrats.

“They don’t read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke, but they come from the same schoolyards and parks and cities that we come from,” Buchanan would say of these voters in his “culture war” speech at the National Convention Republican of 1992. . “They share our beliefs and convictions, our hopes and our dreams. They are the conservatives at heart.”

“Our decision is to put America first, make America first again, and keep America first,” Buchanan wrote during that campaign against President George HW Bush. “For 50 years, we’ve liberated, defended and helped nations around the world. It was the right and just thing to do. But now, we must start looking for the forgotten Americans right here in the United States.”

Politico called Trump “Pat Buchanan at his best.” The New York Times called Buchanan “the man who won the Republican Party before Trump.” Five days after Trump’s inauguration, New York Magazine printed the headline: “Welcome to the Pat Buchanan administration.”

But the two men briefly faced off for the Reform Party presidential nomination before the 2000 election. It was during that campaign that Trump took many of the positions that made Republicans question his conservative credentials, particularly on issues social. Trump dropped out of the race, Buchanan won the nomination, but only got 0.4% of the vote to finish a distant fourth in the general election.

Almost a quarter of a century later, the Republican Party looks a lot more Buchananite than it did the winner of that election, former President George W. Bush. There is an America First Caucus in the GOP-controlled House.

“While many older Republican leaders remain wedded to a Bush foreign policy, some of the party’s future leaders appear to be embracing their own versions of ‘America First,'” Buchanan wrote in 2021.

“We’ve turned the Republicans into a party of the working class,” Trump’s former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said in 2019.

Still, the midterm results showed the party is a far cry from the 49-state landslides of Nixon and Reagan. Republicans are debating a realignment toward Buchanan’s deeper social conservatism or the more secular Trump, who appears to be conflicted about his contribution to overturning Roe v. Wade.


The final chapter of this story has yet to be written. But at 84, one of its main authors is signing off.

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