A major Republican presidential candidate hasn’t endorsed the presumptive nominee and isn’t speaking at the convention. Instead he is headlining his own separate rally nearby.
That describes Ron Paul this year, but it was also true of Pat Buchanan in 1996. Buchanan had received 3 million votes and amassed over 200 delegates in the primaries, finishing second behind nominee Bob Dole. But he wasn’t invited to address the Republican National Convention because of the controversy surrounding his “culture war” speech four years before.
Author Timothy Stanley recounted Buchanan’s Paul-like role at the 1996 convention in his book “The Crusader: The Tumultuous Life and Times of Pat Buchanan.”
“The day before the 1996 convention, Pat threw a big rally in San Diego,” Stanley wrote. “The mood was ugly. It was a hot, dry afternoon and the rumor was that Buchanan was going to endorse Dole.”
Like many Paul supporters this year, some in the 1996 Buchanan brigades didn’t want to endorse the Republican nominee. They wanted to go third party. The U.S. Taxpayers’ Party had been founded in part to provide a vehicle for Buchanan to run for president outside the GOP.
Oliver North warmed up the crowd for Buchanan. Some of the Buchananites were carrying hunting rifles. Before Buchanan spoke, a heated argument broke out between a Baptist minister and a gay schoolteacher who had been kicked out of the military for violating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Pat walked out onstage,” Stanley wrote. “The crowd erupted. It seemed they would have done anything he asked at the moment. If he told them to, they would have stormed the convention and taken Bob Dole hostage.”
Buchanan delivered a red meat speech. He told the audience they had come close to driving Dole from the race. He promised them the Republican Party would someday become a “Buchanan Party.” If that day didn’t come, Buchanan said a third party might be necessary.
The crowd rose to their feet in anticipation. They chanted, “Go Pat, go!” They were hoping their man was about to bolt the GOP.
Then Buchanan endorsed Dole. Rally attendees reacted angrily. A Buchanan aide told Stanley that she thought “they might jump on the stage and throttle him. Pat walked off to boos.”
Buchanan just laughed. “They were believers, dreamers, not followers,” the Buchanan aide told Stanley.
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