The Challenger What Does Pat Want?

Buchanan has already drawn blood and divided the G.O.P., but he won't be satisfied until the party embraces his arch-conservative agenda

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A Confederate sword in his hand and a white Stetson hat on his head, Pat Buchanan stands in front of the Alamo. "Take a look behind me," the Republican challenger tells the friendly crowd. "Those fellows put Texas first. They put their own freedom first. They put their own families first, and they were willing to stand up and fight and die for it." Buchanan's own candidacy may face a similar fate, but he hopes his quixotic battle against George Bush will help win the war for the soul of the Republican Party.

Buchanan has already bloodied Bush in a political cross fire that has preoccupied the Republican Party and may help topple the President in November. Just three months ago, Buchanan was an acerbic television commentator; now, thanks to tough economic times and Bush's bumbling ways, Buchanan holds hostage many of the angry "swing" voters who are likely to pick the next President. He has also ignited a crusade that could make him the country's most influential right-wing Republican. Still, when all the votes are tallied, Buchanan will not come close to winning the G.O.P. nomination ! this year, and that raises two questions: What is he really after, and What is he likely to get?

Most of all, Buchanan, who accuses Bush of hijacking the Reagan Revolution, is determined to return the G.O.P. to its conservative roots. While his rhetoric drips with the dark resentments of nativism, isolationism and protectionism, Buchanan is winning broad support with his denunciations of Bush as an unprincipled pragmatist who would rather win re-election than lead the nation. His battle cry of "America First" appeals to those who think the country is headed in the wrong direction. "It is time," says Buchanan, "to start looking out for the forgotten Americans right here in the United States."

Like Richard Nixon's Silent Majority, Buchanan's supporters -- overwhelmingly white, male and angry -- revel in his harangues as he attacks gays, environmentalists and foreigners. Though he denies charges of anti-Semitism, he last week put down a band of Jewish hecklers by telling them, "This rally is of Americans, and by Americans, and for the good old U.S.A., my friends." Says Marcel Bourgoin, 19, who turned out wearing an American-flag tie at a Charleston, S.C., harbor cruise: "He's not afraid to step on people's toes." As Buchanan puts it, "Real men gotta say what they mean and mean what they say."

That is the impetus behind Buchanan's two-pronged attack. On the home front, he slams Bush for breaking his no new taxes pledge and for signing last year's Civil Rights Act, which Buchanan calls an unjust quota bill. Buchanan rails against illegal immigrants, who he claims are draining taxpayer dollars. He wants to slash the size of the Federal Government, freeze government regulations for two years and roll back half of Congress's recent pay hike. He also wants to clamp term limits on "those check-kiting, boodling Congressmen on Capitol Hill." In one of his nastier pitches, he attacks the National Endowment for the Arts as "that upholstered playpen of the arts and crafts auxiliary of the Eastern liberal Establishment."

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