In the Spotlight

News & Features
The Buchanan Effect
By Martin Kaste
October 25, 1999
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan has announced his conversion to the Reform Party. The national leaders of the Reform Party are welcoming Buchanan, saying he shares much of the party's fiscally conservative, anti-free trade philosophy. But Minnesota Reform Party leaders say Buchanan is too conservative on social issues, and may end up ripping the party apart.

More Information:

See a list of Minnesota contributors to the Buchanan campaign.

See MPR Online's Campaign 2000 page.
THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE UP the braintrust of Minnesota's Reform Party are none too pleased with the prospect of having to share their party with Pat Buchanan. Phil Madsen, a political strategist for Governor Ventura, says Buchanan has no business running under the Reform banner.
Madsen: He may see himself as Reform, but what he's bringing into this party is basically a battle for the soul of the party: Is it going to become a Buchanan-loyal right wing organization, or will it remain a party of the political center?
Madsen especially objects to Buchanan's conservative social agenda, which includes a strong opposition to legal abortion and gay rights - positions, which Madsen says, are incompatible with the Reform party, whose platform avoids the abortion issue altogether. Madsen says most Minnesota Reform party activists see Buchanan as an opportunist who has set his sites on the Reform Party's $13 million in federal campaign funds.
Madsen: He's a washout as a candidate in the Republican Party. He's already lost twice, he doesn't show nearly the strength this year that he showed last time, but he does have the strength to go in and knock over a small party organization, if there's no competition for the nomination.
This is why the "Ventura camp" inside the Reform Party has started to rally behind the probable candidacy of New York developer Donald Trump, a self-styled social moderate who may have enough name recognition to keep Buchanan from capturing the Reform nomination next summer. Ventura supporters have been trying to wrest control of the national party from what they see as Ross Perot's excessive influence, and the Trump vs. Buchanan confrontation is shaping up as a surrogate for the ongoing Ventura versus Perot battle. Madsen says if Buchanan does win the nomination, the Minnesota Reform Party will seriously consider disaffiliating itself from the national party.
Verney: I think the people in Minnesota had ought to stop threatening the national Reform Party.
Russ Verney, the outgoing national chairman of the Reform Party, is a confidante of Ross Perot and political enemy of Jesse Ventura, whom he called on to leave the party after the notorious Playboy interview. Verney says he welcomes the competition Pat Buchanan would bring to the nomination process, and he says he's not worried that Buchanan might be courting the Reform Party just for its money.
Verney: I'm no more worried about that than I was about Jesse Ventura being after the money in Minnesota, where the party had ballot status, public financing and the right to the debate. In the national process, Pat Buchanan or anyone else who pursues our nomination is going to have to make a big investment in the reform party, getting that ballot access in 29 states; it's going to cost perhaps as much as $6 million.
Buchanan's likely party switch is also threatening to cause turmoil in his old party. Julie Quist is a longtime conservative Republican activist, as well as the wife of two-time gubernatorial candidate Allen Quist. She worked for Buchanan in previous elections, and although she now supports Republican Gary Bauer, she does not rule out voting for Buchanan in November 2000.
Quist: The Republican Party has a very conservative base, and to a large degree, they take that for granted. So the Republican Party has to recognize that the conservatives do have someplace to go, if there is no place for them in the party.
Republican Party leaders in Minnesota are not happy with the prospect of having their most conservative, reliable voters abandon the GOP presidential nominee in favor of Buchanan. State party executive director Tony Sutton, who also worked on Buchanan's 1996 campaign, says good Republicans should not follow Buchanan to the Reform Party. Every vote for Buchanan, he says, will end up being a vote for Bill Bradley or Al Gore.