Catching up with author and syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan during this election season is almost impossible. Up at 5 a.m. weekdays and still up many nights at midnight, commuting multiple times to Washington and sometimes to New York City, he’s always on the move -- and yet he’s a near-permanent presence on MSNBC, where he has become the house conservative in a den of liberals.
I caught up with Washington’s consistently jovial pundit by telephone from his Northern Virginia home on Thursday, Oct. 9.
Q: Do you think it’s over for John McCain because of this economic meltdown that seems to know no floor?
A: I just sent out a column that said I don’t think it’s over. McCain and (Sarah) Palin were winning this election for two weeks after the Republican convention. Since then we’ve had the worst market crash worldwide since 1929-1930 and we’ve had it in a telescoped four-week period. That has taken McCain from 2 points, or 3 points or 4 points up to around 8 or 10 behind in some polls, 11 in one tracking poll and an average of 6.
Is it over? No. I think McCain can still do it. But what he has to do is find a way to make Barack Obama no longer credible as an individual who can be president of the United States in a time of war and economic catastrophe. He has got to impeach his ideas, his record, his agenda and his judgment.
Q: Do you think these polls are accurately gauging support for Obama or do you think there is a "Bradley Effect" hidden in there?
A: I do believe that if the race turned out to be 48-48 with 4 undecided on Election Day, McCain would win. Look: People voting on the issue of race have already made up their minds. African Americans, I saw one poll, are 94-1 behind him. Of white Americans, there’s a minority who are going to vote for him because he’s African American and a small number who are going to vote against him for that reason.
Now is there a hidden factor in there? I don’t know. I don’t know the reason why, but Obama does not do well when he is closing. Hillary Clinton, as you know, beat him by 10 or 9 percent in Pennsylvania and about the same amount in Ohio and then by 41 in West Virginia and 35 in Kentucky. I think part of that is the Scots-Irish and those folks out there who don’t cotton to Obama not simply because of reasons of race, but class. He really is not one of them. I think Colin Powell would do far better, for example.
Q: You have roots of sorts out this way. Your mom was from the Mon Valley, right?
A: They’re all gone now. But my mom and uncles and grandparents were from Charleroi, Pa. I’ve got German-American cousins in Southeastern Ohio. They’re all German-Americans and I did very well. I was endorsed by the union at the steel plant over in Weirton. So those are sort of our folks. Barack Obama is too exotic. He’s too Harvard. He’s too Hyde Park, University of Chicago -- riding around on his bike with his little hat on. And then you get a picture of Sarah leaning back on a Harley-Davidson (laughs).
Q: Can Palin still help McCain or is she starting to lose some of her appeal?
A: She’s still got a tremendous appeal in getting the crowds out, there’s no question about that. She’s enormously exciting but she’s also been under vicious attack, savage attack, ever since she was nominated. She’s holding up well. She can grab the media at any time and she’s still a tremendously attractive commodity. But there’s no doubt that under fire she has been hurt a bit.
Q: Do you think Obama is playing it maybe too cool?
A: Obama may be playing it too cool. With Sarah Palin beating him up and McCain starting to work on him now, he better not come off as a wimp -- complaining about “they’re attacking me” and “they’re saying these terrible things about me” -- because wimps don’t win.
Q: Do you think Obama really believes all the neo-New Deal domestic policy and all the big spending programs and all the big-government things he’s talking about doing or does he just have to say that to win his party’s nomination and the presidency?
A: I think Barack Obama at core is a quintessential pragmatist who is interested in advancing the career of Barack Obama. I think he’s a nice guy. I think he’s got a nice personality. I think he’s a friendly sort. I think he’s a guy who does not like confrontation. But I do think he’s a pragmatist. He’s been moving very swiftly away from the left, where he was out there with his crowd in Chicago -- ditching Rev. Wright, dumping Bill Ayers and that crowd, agreeing with (Supreme Court Justice Anton) Scalia on the right to own a handgun in D.C., agreeing with Scalia that child rapists, even in non-capital cases, could be executed.
He’s moved steadily to the center of the Democratic Party because he knows that's where the election is going to be won or lost. He’s moved out of the far left of the party. He’s much tougher on talking with the dictators than he was to begin with. So he’s changed on a variety of issues.
Q: Do you think an Obama victory will really make that much of a difference in our foreign policy -- he’s an interventionist on everything but Iraq?
A: My guess is Barack Obama is looking on the idea of any war with Iran with less enthusiasm that John McCain and Joe Lieberman would. Look, while he’s taken this hard line in foreign policy, I think he’d be far less likely to get us into another war over there than John McCain on that issue. Even though he’s talking hawkish, I get the sense that he’s doing that because he’s got to satisfy some of those Hillary Democrats and conservative Democrats who want a tough president.
Q: Are we witnessing the end of the Republican Party’s 40-year cycle of power, as Chalmers Johnson says in The Nation?
A: I’ve written that. I think what is killing the Republican Party is the alteration of the electorate. You have to remember when we put this Nixon coalition together, probably 92 percent of the electorate was white. African-Americans were probably 7 percent, if that, because they didn’t vote in the South, and the rest was 1 percent. Now the white population is down to 66 percent and in voting terms it’s probably not much more than say 75 percent.
Republican (strategy) is (based on winning) the white vote. Nixon and Reagan won it by 67 and 64 percent and that simply was enough to win the election. But now you’ve got to do more than that. You’ve got to start getting some of these other minorities to put together a coalition and eventually, by the time as we move closer to the center of the century, if you got every white vote in the country, you couldn’t win on that alone. (laughs) And we can’t get them all! (laughs) Let me tell you this to make a flat statement: Foolishly, the Republican Party is condoning the importation of a brand new electorate which will doom the Republican Party.
Q: And that is?
A: This new electorate? Ninety percent of the immigrants coming in are from Third World countries and every single minority population which comes from the Third World votes Democratic -- anywhere from 60 percent to 95 percent. These folks are predominately poor -- and they believe in government. And the reason they believe in government is the best of reasons for them; they get more out of it than they pay in. The bottom 30 percent in income in the United States doesn’t pay any income taxes at all, I don’t think. When Barack Obama says we’re going to hit the top 5 percent (of income earners), the top 5 percent pay 60 percent of all income taxes.
Q: Is there anything John McCain can say or do to pull this out -- besides trying to out-promise Barack Obama with things like his promise to pay off our bad mortgages?
A: I don’t know why I paid my mortgage off (laughs). ... The main thing he has to do -- as the country desperately wants change and, as I write (in today's column), the Republican brand party is on the same shelf as the Chinese baby formula right now -- is he and his campaign and Sarah Palin have got to raise doubts in the public mind that Barack Obama has the ideas or the record or the judgment or the character to be president of the United States in a time of two wars and the greatest economic collapse maybe since the Great Depression -- to raise those question marks over Barack Obama’s head. Barack Obama’s assignment in those first two debates was to remove those question marks.
Q: And he didn’t do it yet?
A: I think he did it partly but I don’t think he’s closed the sale yet. That’s McCain’s opportunity.
Q: Which state will ultimately determine the race?
A: It could be Ohio or Florida. But it could be other ones. One could be Pennsylvania, if McCain could win that. But it could be Virginia, it could be Colorado, it could be North Carolina. Look, I’ll say this: If McCain doesn’t win Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida -- and Colorado -- I think he loses the election. He’s got to win all five of those and they are all up for grabs now.
Q: Intrade, the online “Prediction Market” where you can buy or sell shares of McCain or Obama based on who you think will win, shows Obama ahead 74 percent to 26 percent. Where would you put your money?
A: I think it’s very close to what I would put it. Yep, I wouldn’t disagree with that.