There are portents of Buchanan in previous Republican presidential candidacies, though one has to go back a while to find some of them. His "America First" foreign policy isn't far from the views of prominent midwestern Republicans from 1920 to 1952: Senator Robert Taft, after all, opposed the NATO treaty, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg was an isolationist for much of his political life. Buchanan's opposition to most civil-rights legislation—including (on constitutional grounds) the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964—recalls Barry Goldwater. And Buchanan's onetime boss, Ronald Reagan, certainly portrayed himself as an outsider who would return Washington and the federal government to "the people."
Tempermentally and rhetorically, however, Buchanan is anything but a typical Republican. Instead he clearly falls into the populist tradition—which is why he often sounds more like an old-time Democrat on the hustings than any current member of that party, including the incumbent. "I've been waiting my whole life for someone running for President to talk about the Fortune 500 as the enemy," the reporter Tom Carson, of the liberal Village Voice, told Buchanan, "and when Ifinally get my wish, it turns out to be you." On the stump Buchanan says, "We've seen the real income of men who work with their hands, tools, and machines decline. The Dow Jones average went up about twenty percent in six months; the real income of American workers went down two-point-three percent." That's not the kind of talk one hears from Clinton, much less from Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, Newt Gingrich, or even Rush Limbaugh. They all supported the North American Free Trade Agreement; Buchanan joined Perot and Jesse Jackson in opposing it. Dole, Gramm, and Gingrich tend to downplay social issues; Buchanan wears his social conservatism and opposition to abortion as a badge of honor. From his class-warfare protectionist rhetoric to his nativist isolationism, from his constant dark barbs thrown at Wall Street and the establishment to his well-publicized indulgence in ugly, quite possibly anti-Semitic talk, Buchanan has less in common with the personas of the genial Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan than with those of Father Charles Coughlin and Tom Watson, who, it has been said, "talked like the thrust of a Bowie knife." When Buchanan announces that he will "take America back for the things we believe in," or says "I want to say today to all the globalists up there in Tokyo and New York and Paris, when I raise my hand to take that oath of office, your new world order comes crashing down," his style isn't much different.
It's no surprise that there are constituencies for such rhetoric in an era when voters feel increasingly alienated from politics and government. Those who have observed the enthusiastic reception Buchanan has gotten at prayer breakfasts, or at rallies held at the barricaded doors of closed New Hampshire factories, or at the United We Stand convention in Dallas last August, where he drew the loudest cheers, know that he is striking chords among diverse audiences. Though Buchanan lacks the fundraising apparatus of the more conventional party candidates, such as Dole, Gramm, and Lamar Alexander, he does possess tactical advantages. He alone mounted a primary challenge to George Bush in 1992—which gave him a chance to hone his message and his organization. The current field of Washington insiders—Dole, Gramm, Richard Lugar, even Alexander, who served significant stints in Washington—gives Buchanan rhetorical traction. And because Buchanan is a media celebrity, he is better known than anyone else in the field except Dole. Buchanan made a point of his celebrity when he announced his presidential candidacy in 1991, bragging, "No other American has spent as many hundreds of hours debating the great questions of our day, on national television." Buchanan's membership in the fraternity of pundits has also given him a kind of respectability that might elude someone like George Wallace, not to mention immunity from the negative coverage he might attract for some of his more inflammatory statements.