NIXON’S WHITE HOUSE WARS The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever By Patrick J. Buchanan Illustrated. 436 pp. Crown Forum. $30.The way the Electoral College works is that it pays to be competitive in a lot of states rather than run up huge margins in Texas if you are Republican or California if you are Democratic. It was always pretty obvious that white Catholics could be very important in the modern Electoral College, much more so than, say, trendy Mexican-American voters, who are clustered in Texas and California.
But Nixon sensed that Buchanan was onto something much bigger than vitriol, a new grand strategy for the Republican Party, a new majority anchored by the white working class, not just in the South, but also in the Northern ethnic, mostly Catholic, enclaves. This philosophy has been the driving vision of Buchanan’s life. It has made him one of the most consequential conservatives of the past half-century. Indeed, he’s a reactionary who was also an avatar: the first Trumpist. …
It is easy to be horrified by Buchanan’s gleeful excesses, but that is the reaction he’s hoping to elicit. Humorless upper-crust liberalism is the fattest of targets. Beneath the vitriol, though, Buchanan has spent his career raising important questions that our society has never seemed willing to discuss forthrightly. What should be the limits of identity politics? In a democracy, should courts or legislatures decide basic policies like abortion, busing and campaign finance? Should we trade the higher prices that will come from protectionism for the increased stability that might come from keeping more blue-collar jobs at home? These are the issues that Buchanan has been thumping for the past 50 years, and that Donald Trump exploited in 2016. They cannot be dismissed. We are, for the moment, living in Pat Buchanan’s world.
Joe Klein’s books include “Primary Colors,” “Woody Guthrie” and, most recently, “Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home.”