From Politico’s guide to the top-50 thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics in 2016.
People often wonder where the Donald Trump phenomenon really came from. Pat Buchanan is a pretty good place to start. Buchanan, a former adviser to Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, became a broadcast celebrity and then a Republican political candidate, first in 1992â€”a time when the real Trump was near financial ruin, buried under a pile of debt. As he will tell you now, it was Buchanan, the proud â€œpaleoconservative,â€ who outlined much of the anti-immigration, anti-free trade, neo-isolationist platform that Trump has made his own in this campaign. His positions when he ran for president in 1992, 1996 and 2000 read almost identically to Trumpâ€™s: ending trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and most-favored-nation status for China, building a fence to secure the border with Mexico (â€œIf a country canâ€™t secure its borders, itâ€™s not even a country anymore,â€ Buchanan said back then, echoing Reagan) and avoiding foreign interventions; Buchananâ€™s 1992 slogan was â€œAmerica First,â€ which Trump has since adopted as his own foreign policy mantra. And Buchanan made the case using just the sort of fiery populist bombast that Trump now offers up to his chanting crowds.
Buchananâ€”a Trump backer, even though the candidate hasnâ€™t acknowledged drawing any inspiration from himâ€”is well aware that he is often considered the intellectual forefather of the Trump phenomenon. As the GOP primary season came to an end, he told Politico Magazine, â€œPeople started saying, â€˜Itâ€™s over, and Buchanan won.â€™â€
In 1996, Buchanan stunned the GOP establishment by winning the New Hampshire primary, as Trump did this year. He had predicted as much in his famous populist â€œpitchforksâ€ speech: â€œAll the knights and barons will be riding into the castle pulling up the drawbridge in a minute,â€ Buchanan said. â€œAll the peasants are coming with pitchforks after them. Weâ€™re going to take this over the top.â€ He never did, of courseâ€”Bob Dole won the nomination and lost the election. Buchanan faded as a politician, along with many of his ideas. Now, Trump has seized on them to overturn the GOP, and heâ€™s much closer to the Oval Office than Buchanan ever got. If the billionaire makes it there, it will be in part because the groundwork had been laid.