Inside the Beltway, it's easy to laugh at the Reform Party.
In one corner, you've got a rabble-rousing populist that
opponents call a "Hitler lover." In the other, a mega-wealthy real
estate developer with large alimony payments and a well-honed sense
These two men - Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump, who have both now
officially quit the Republican Party and joined the Reformers - are
the new dueling front men for a party that, in seven years, has
never been short of entertaining.
Behind them stand the party's battling impresarios, eccentric
millionaire Ross Perot and the formerly boa-clad Minnesota governor,
But in some real ways, the Reform Party offers the most vivid
example yet of the state of party politics at the end of the 20th
century - an ideological free-for-all, where voters now attach more
importance to a candidate's persona than to party principles.
Even if some voters do still hew to one party line or another,
the fine print of party platforms is declining in importance.
Personality has become the dominant factor in presidential politics -
in all the major parties - particularly at a time of peace and
prosperity. Media-driven campaigns, fueled by big money, are only
accelerating this trend.
The 2000 presidential race is "basically a high-stakes popularity
contest," says Del Ali, an independent pollster.
And so, enter Pat versus The Donald. Mr. Buchanan is definitely
running for president. Mr. Trump is still just in the "exploratory
committee" phase but has stated "it's a very great possibility that
I will run."
In Trump's case, the messenger is the message: an in-your-face
risk-taker whose policy views almost seem a footnote to the man's
persona. But in fact, Trump seems a better fit for the Reformers
existing platform, which blends economic conservatism with social
At its conventions, Reform Party members have intentionally
steered clear of sticky issues such as abortion, saying they don't
belong in politics. Now, some top Reform members say that silence
opens the way to Buchanan's staunchly anti-abortion view.
Others, who oppose Buchanan, say his hard line could drive a
wedge into the party. If Buchanan wins the Reform nomination, the
party's social libertarians may opt to start yet another party.
The irony in the possible Buchanan-Trump matchup is that both men
left the Republican Party to get away from the likes of each other.
Buchanan says he left because the party had lost its way on core
principles, such as the abortion issue.
Trump says he quit because "the Republicans are just too crazy
right," a comment that he could easily have been aiming at the
Buchananites, judging from some of Trump's comments about the
conservative commentator. …