Staking a claim to leadership of the conservative rebellion he sparked by challenging President George Bush four years ago, Patrick J. Buchanan formally announced Monday his entrance into the fast-growing field for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination.
A crowd of about 200 supporters in a downtown auditorium shouted "Go, Pat, Go!" as the 56-year-old columnist and television commentator expounded on the major nationalist and populist themes of his 1992 campaign, only with a different emphasis.
When he used the phrase "America first" in 1992, he mainly meant re-establishing U.S. primacy in world affairs. On Monday, Buchanan stressed the threat to workers from unfair competition abroad while condemning the Clinton Administration for failing to protect their interests.
"Our people (are) not realizing the fruit of their labor," he declared, because "we have a government . . . that is too busy taking phone calls from lobbyists for foreign countries and the corporate contributors of the Fortune 500."
Few Republicans believe Buchanan's new candidacy will have the effect of his 1992 insurgency, when, as the only consequential challenger to Bush, he got 37% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary and damaged the President's prestige. In the current field, many believe his main impact will be to draw votes away from Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, viewed as the leading conservative in the race.
Nevertheless, the burly, dark-haired Buchanan sounded as confident and bellicose as ever in Monday's relatively modest ceremonies, in which the only flourishes were provided by the 32-piece marching band from Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Still River, Mass.
Buchanan, flanked by his wife, Shelley, and his sister and campaign chairwoman, Angela M. (Bay) Buchanan, vowed to "bring the jobs home and . . . keep the jobs here."
"When I walk into the Oval Office, we start looking out for America first," he said.
He reserved his most impassioned rhetoric for the defense of "traditional" cultural values.
In language reminiscent of his controversial 1992 GOP convention speech in Houston, in which he declared, "There is a religious war going on for the soul of America," Buchanan depicted contemporary culture as "polluted with lewdness and violence."
He lamented the weakening of revered institutions and customs, from the celebration of Columbus Day to the singing of Christmas carols in public schools, and charged that "the campaign to malign America's heroes and defile Americans past" was designed "to turn America's children against what their parents believe and what they love."
Buchanan pledged that if elected, he will use the President's "bully pulpit" to defend American values. "Together we will chase the purveyors of sex and violence back beneath the rocks whence they came."
Buchanan made no mention of the divisive issue of abortion, but he has previously indicated he would strongly resist any effort to change the GOP platform's opposition to abortion. And campaign literature distributed to the press at the announcement included a pledge to reverse the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, which affirmed a woman's right to have an abortion.
Buchanan is the third Republican to officially announce for the GOP nomination, following Gramm and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. That figure will likely double in the next four weeks with announcements scheduled for Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania on March 30, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas on April 10 and Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana on April 19. And aides to Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) say he will announce sometime next month.
Meanwhile, California Gov. Pete Wilson has decided to create an exploratory committee for a presidential bid and may plunge into the contest, perhaps within the next two weeks, an addition that would be significant because of his presumed fund-raising ability and his political base in the nation's largest state.
Regarded as likely to have far less impact on the campaign are the potential candidacies of two other Republicans: former Labor Secretary Lynn Martin, who is expected to announce her intentions Friday, and Alan Keyes, former ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council. Keyes would be the first African American to compete for the Republican nomination.
Gary Koops, press secretary to Gramm, discounted the effect of Buchanan's candidacy on Gramm, noting that "it's just as likely that Wilson and Specter would pull votes from Dole," the presumptive front-runner. Wilson and Specter are closer to the centrist Dole on the GOP's ideological spectrum than they are to the conservative Gramm.
Republican professionals say Buchanan faces a problem now that he didn't have in 1992, when the purpose of his candidacy was clear.
"His goal (then) was to move Bush and the party to the right," said Republican pollster Anthony Fabrizio, not now connected with any of the candidates. But now, "I'm not sure where he differs from the two front-runners (Dole and Gramm)." Dole, Gramm and Buchanan share the same views on the issues that matter most to Republicans, "only the tone is different," Fabrizio said.
But Buchanan's sister disagrees. "Pat represents an element of the party that is presently unrepresented by other candidates," Bay Buchanan said in an interview. "He is an economic nationalist and believes our trade policies and economic policies should help Americans. He is also a strong social conservative, and other candidates are waffling on these issues."
While many conservatives admire Buchanan for his aggressiveness, some Republicans worry that he stirs too much controversy. His announcement here was interrupted briefly by four young men, members of a group called the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, who rushed onto the stage when he began speaking and were then expelled from the auditorium.
A spokesman for the group, Ron Torossian, said they were protesting allegedly anti-Semitic comments Buchanan has made.
Buchanan comes by his fiery conservatism honestly. He was one of nine offspring in an Irish-Catholic family whose patriarch never spared the rod and placed three public men above all others in esteem: Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy and Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
After a stint as an editorial writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, young Buchanan found a hero of his own in Richard Nixon and entered politics as a Nixon aide, first in his law firm, then as White House special assistant and speech writer.
After Nixon was forced to quit the presidency, Buchanan stayed at the White House as a consultant to Gerald R. Ford, then he returned to journalism as a columnist and television commentator. In 1985, Buchanan came back to the White House as communications director for Ronald Reagan. Buchanan is probably best known as the co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," a job he resigned earlier this month.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Profile: Patrick J. Buchanan
Background on the most recent entry in the GOP presidential race:
* Age: 56
* Experience: Editorial writer and assistant editorial editor, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 1962-1965; executive assistant at Richard Nixon's law firm, then White House special assistant and speech writer, 1969-1972; special consultant in early months of President Gerald Ford's term; columnist, radio and television commentator, 1975-1985; communications director, Reagan White House, 1985-1987; resumed commentary; ran for Republican presidential nomination, 1992; went back to commentary and hosted radio talk show.
* Family: Married May 8, 1971, to Shelley Ann Scarney, then a White House receptionist. No children.
* Quote: "Economics is not the science that sends men to the barricades. Whether the choice of weapons is words or guns, men fight to preserve the most beautiful of the pictures in their minds."
Source: Times wire services, Who's Who