s the Texas Governor, George W Bush, saunters to the Republican presidential nomination like a complacent country-clubber strolling up the 18th fairway, wishing to God he could have a good stiff drink or three in the club house, just like old times (but no: his days as a table-dancing, bimbo-banging scion are over, for he has become Compassionate Conservatism made flesh), a rude surprise awaits. That old hell-raiser Pat Buchanan is organising a revolt of the caddies. Last week Buchanan's aides hinted that if - when - Buchanan is denied the Grand Old Party nomination, he may bolt and run as the candidate of Ross Perot's populist Reform Party.
Bush Jnr has raised the astonishing sum of $36m from those corporations and investment bankers who seek to rent his services for the next quadrennium. No other Republican candidate has even a fraction of the Bush treasury, save the publishing heir Steve Forbes, who appears ready to expend tens of millions of dollars of the family wealth - whatever was not spent by his late father, Malcolm, in pursuit of leather-clad boys - in his own pursuit of Christian voters who believe the capital-gains tax to be un- biblical. The consultants who have lucked on to the Forbes gravy train seem to be enjoying themselves. But, sooner or later, whether in the grey February of New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary in 2000, a state whose licence plates read "Live Free or Die" and whose old Yankee residents mean it, or in November, as a renegade third-party candidate, Pat Buchanan and his populist band are going to block young Georgie's path to the presidency so recently occupied by his mediocre father. In best prep-school fashion, Bush will try to buy his way past the unruly townies. But this time, Roger Daltrey-like, the rabble are vowing that they won't get fooled again. Patrick J Buchanan receives the worst press of any American political figure since George Wallace, the southern firebrand of the 1960s. Wallace was crude, a poor white whom the educated Easterners of the press corps could feel superior to. But Buchanan is witty, engaging and smart 60-year- old; he is Washington-bred and Jesuit- educated. His father was an accountant who taught his sons to use their fists for fighting rather than gripping pencils. Young Pat learnt this lesson too well: he was suspended from Georgetown University for a year after brawling with police officers who had issued him with a traffic ticket. Buchanan has spent most of his adulthood in the Imperial City, charming even the liberals he has so expertly baited. So why does Pat Buchanan bear the mark of the beast? Because he is the only major American political figure to wake from the long Cold War nightmare and demand that his countrymen renounce empire. Buchanan is that rara avis in American public life: a politician who has sat back, examined the evidence and changed his mind. He served as an adviser to two of the most internationalist presidents, Nixon and Reagan, and while he remains personally loyal to this dubious duo, his platform is a flat repudiation of their legacies. He opposed the Gulf war. He denounced the recent war over Kosovo. He is for withdrawing US troops from Europe and Korea. He has called his voters "anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist, disbelievers in Pax Americana". His forthcoming book is titled A Republic, Not An Empire, and the locution is instructive: he is the first American politician to use the e-word since Senator William Fulbright (the one honourable Bill that Arkansas has given the nation). Buchanan is also the sole prominent politician (other than his kindred spirit, the ex-California governor and current Oakland mayor, Jerry Brown) who uses "capitalist" as an epithet. He speaks the language of the historically rooted American left, the noble left of Eugene Debs and prairie populists, who dreamt of a farmer-labour coalition against the forces of finance. …