Some angry Inland Northwest voters aren’t waiting for orders from campaign headquarters. They’re riding into battle to the sound of Pat Buchanan’s verbal gunfire.
Parts of Eastern Washington and North Idaho are becoming Buchanan country as the combative Republican vents fears and frustrations bubbling through the region.
He’s the morality champ for conservative Christians. He’s the economic patriot for the hard-hats. He’s the pro-guns, United Nations-basher for John Birchers, constitutionalists and militiamen. He’s the renegade truthsayer for Perot faithfuls.
He’s also the eloquent brawler for legions of voters of all stripes disgusted with what they see as a corrupt president and a deaf Congress.
“If Buchanan were to debate Clinton one on one,” said Spokane Republican Duane Alton, relishing the thought, “I personally think he would cut him to pieces.”
In a region where anti-government clamor rings loudly, Buchanan is the only presidential candidate who speaks the vernacular of the revolutionary.
His Internet home page welcomes readers to take part in the “Second American Revolution!” and declares, “Pat Buchanan is our Braveheart!”
Buchanan’s support here may not run as deep as Bob Dole’s, but he is expected to finish strong in Washington’s caucuses. The same Christian conservative coalition that won the state’s caucus for the Rev. Pat Robertson in 1988 is expected to flood the precincts for Buchanan on Tuesday.
The emerging “Buchanan Brigade” is a disorganized, growing force that recruits voters through patriot and gun-rights groups as well as the more prevalent Christian networks.
Buchanan’s campaign brass also includes a veteran at rallying Inland Northwest conservatives. His national co-chairman Michael Farris led the Washington Moral Majority in the early 1980s. He once exhorted hundreds of anti-abortion protesters to “put on the armor of God” and illegally picket a Spokane health clinic.
“Before New Hampshire it was very quiet,” said Wynn Schaub, from Buchanan’s overwhelmed Washington state headquarters in Yakima. “Now it’s like a prairie fire. I can barely keep up with it. … When I press a button it sends out 4,000 faxes” to Eastern Washington.
Part of Buchanan’s appeal springs from his firm opinions on most everything. While increasingly branded a racist, sexist, fascist homophobe, he is not called a waffler.
For example, he doesn’t hedge in his support of Christian conservatives.
“In too many of our schools our children are being robbed of their innocence,” said Buchanan in his campaign announcement speech. “Their minds are being poisoned against their Judeo-Christian heritage, against America’s heroes and against American history, against the values of faith and family and country.”
Mary Ann Peterson was trying to figure out how to help Buchanan’s campaign this week. “We were a better country when we prayed more and relied more on God,” said the Spokane woman. “I want a strong country. I don’t want to be walked on.”
She compared Buchanan’s integrity and morality to President Clinton’s. “We’ve got a dirtball in there now. He’s a liar. He’s a womanizer. This is our president? I’m ashamed of him. We need a strong man to put us back on course.”
In northeast Washington, the Vaagen Bros. Lumber Co. recently cut a shift at its Colville mill while Canadian logging trucks continue to rumble across the border.
Buchanan voices the fears and anger of loggers and factory workers.
“When I am elected president of the United States, there will be no more NAFTA sellouts of American workers. There will no more GATT deals done for the benefit of Wall Street bankers.”
Darrel Cupp, of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, tells everyone he knows and sees about Buchanan.
“He wants to take care of America first. He’s against abortion and for gun rights,” Cupp said. “He wants to protect our borders. He thinks quotas are wrong.
He doesn’t equivocate. I’ve watched him for years on ‘Crossfire.’ He’s a leader. I feel I have found a sort of kindred spirit. You know what he stands for. It’s high time we had someone in office who called a spade a spade.”
For some militant voters, Buchanan is the next best thing to their “Rambo” candidate in 1992 - former Green Beret Bo Gritz.
John Trochmann, leader of the Militia of Montana, talks up Buchanan these days. “The public is hearing from him what they’ve been hearing from us for years,” he said.
Buchanan also stokes fears that the United States’ involvement in the United Nations dilutes national sovereignty and leads to a one-world government.
“Today our birthright of sovereignty, purchased with the blood of patriots, is being traded away for foreign money, handed over to faceless foreign bureaucrats at places like the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the U.N.,” he said in his announcement speech.
As president, Buchanan vows to pardon U.S. Army Medic Michael New, a hero to some around here for refusing to wear U.N colors under foreign leaders in Macedonia.
“The U.N. is a pack of killers and liars,” said Tim Hoecher, a young Addy, Wash., political activist. Hoecher is sending letters to his precinct voters explaining why he intends to vote for Buchanan.
Samuel Sherwood, president of the U.S. Militia Association, based in Blackfoot, Idaho, isn’t sure he’ll support Buchanan, but called his goals noble.
“If he becomes president and repeals GATT and NAFTA and gets the U.S. out of the U.N. he would have done more for U.S. sovereignty than any president since Andrew Jackson.”
But Sherwood also said Buchanan could never make good on his promises, and is likely an opportunist with his own selfish motives.
Bill Smythe, president of the Idaho Citizen’s Awareness Network, a patriot group, also isn’t sold on Buchanan.
“My personal opinion is if Buchanan does do very well, he’s obviously been contacted by somebody and is in somebody’s pocket.”
But most soldiers in the so-called patriot movement are welcoming a candidate who describes his campaign as a way to return the country to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
“It’s about taking America forward toward the dream of a Constitutional Republic,” Buchanan has said.
Stevens County Commissioner J.D. Anderson wrote Buchanan a letter recently asking him to clarify his views on the Constitution.
A self-proclaimed radical constitutionalist, Anderson said he is ready to support Buchanan if the response is satisfactory.
Buchanan’s stance against affirmative action and his alleged links to racists also boosts his appeal with bigots and conspiracy theorists.
“I am a student of conspiracy and my group studies voters. Basically there are two kinds: Those who know and those who don’t know. Buchanan is talking to those who know,” said Richard Masker, superintendent of the Sandpoint water department, who once sent cards featuring Hitler’s picture to Jews. “He is popular not for what he says, but for what he doesn’t say - things that can be read between the lines.”
Buchanan is now gathering a band of support that reminds Gary DeMott of the way Ross Perot’s campaign captured and inspired voters in 1992.
“Pat doesn’t have the money Perot had,” said DeMott, director of the Idaho Sovereignty Association. “So when he says mount up the horses and ride to the sound of the guns that’s exactly what it is. This campaign is spreading mouth-to-mouth.
“That’s what he’s got going for him: word of mouth. It’s not going to stop. This is going to get bigger and bigger.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: A LOOK BACK Last December, The Spokesman-Review documented this region’s growing anti-government movement in a series called The Ragged Edge. We recently contacted some of these self-styled “new patriots” and others to see how presidential contender Pat Buchanan’s message is playing.