Outsiders: Trump, Bernie, Ted Cruz and the Peasants with Pitchforks


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By Joel Achenbach – The Washington Post

Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump answers a question at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump answers a question at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio (Reuters/Brian Snyder)

I was there for the “peasants with pitchforks” speech. Pat Buchanan was holding forth in a crowded room at the Sheraton Hotel in Nashua, N.H., a couple of days before the 1996 GOP primary. The Republican Establishment’s favorite for the nomination was Bob Dole, but Dole, for all his solid credentials and admirable history as a war hero and congressional leader, was never someone to incite a political fever, never one to tap the more visceral emotions of the rowdy electorate.

So here came Buchanan, the TV pundit and unapologetic nativist, and in the icy environs of the New Hampshire primary he was a glowing coal of anti-Establishment fury. But he was also having a ball, relishing every moment, improvising the whole thing — a guy with nothing to lose. Toward the end of his stump speech, he uttered what became his most famous line:

“We shocked them in Alaska. And stunned them in Louisiana. And then stunned them again in Iowa. And they are in a terminal panic in Washington. They are frightened. They hear — ha ha — they hear the shouts of the peasants from over the hill. You watch the Establishment, all the knights and barons will be riding into the castle, pulling up the drawbridge in a minute. And they’re comin’! All the peasants are comin’ with pitchforks after them! So we’re going to take this — we’re going to take this over the top.”

[This is quoted imprecisely on Buchanan’s Wikipedia page. I have transcribed it from the C-SPAN coverage; see minute 34.]

Here’s my 1996 report on the Buchanan rally:

Buchanan’s candidacy is the perfect example of how a campaign is like an insurrection. His raucous rally today in Nashua wasn’t a slick campaign event by any means: It was just energy.

The room was too small to contain the event. Rage became condensed. Buchanan looked as if he might squirt through the ceiling. The Buchanan takeover, if it happens, will not happen gently.

Buchanan ran late, too. A hotel sound system played the same “Go, Pat, go” jingle again and again. The warm-up speaker, Buchanan’s brother Tom, couldn’t figure out how to work the microphone. “Volume!” people screamed, futilely. “Twenty microphones here. Musta come in from Mexico,” the younger Buchanan said cryptically.

But then Pat Buchanan himself came on, and he was red-hot. The stage was too low, and people were screaming at the camera crews to get out of the way. Buchanan charged ahead.

“The establishment in Washington is quaking in its boots!” he said. The “knights” and “barons” of Washington are going to retreat into their castles, he said. “They are in a terminal panic. They hear the shouts of the peasants from over the hill!”

Other candidates stick almost pathologically to their scripted message; Buchanan comes up with new riffs every day. He announced that bureaucrats would be racing out of Washington in “covered wagons” when he becomes president.

“Like immigrants! So I can have more room for my limousine!”

He laughed in that characteristic pinched expression where his eyebrows shoot up at the corners and he bares his teeth as though he’s going to bite someone.

“This is too much fun!” he said.

Buchanan edged Dole in New Hampshire, but Dole’s superior financial and organizational strength put him on top on Super Tuesday. But even if these peasants-with-pitchforks insurrections eventually sputter out, they signal changes taking place in the electorate. The Republican Party is far more conservative than it was just two decades ago. This isn’t Bob Dole’s GOP anymore…

Read more at The Washington Post…

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