Pat Buchanan Says American Conservatives at War

Pat Buchanan, who in 1992 infamously declared that there was “a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America,” now believes American conservatism is at war with itself.

Buchanan sees ‘war’ within conservatism (Washington Times)

Pat Buchanan speaks of American conservatism in the past tense. “The conservative movement has passed into history,” says the one-time White House aide, three-time presidential candidate, commentator and magazine publisher. “It doesn’t exist anymore as a unifying force,” he says in an interview with The Washington Times. “There are still a lot of people who are conservative, but the movement is now broken up, crumbled, dismantled.”


Mr. Buchanan, a former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, says conservatism “is at war with itself over foreign policy, over deficit hawks versus supply-siders.” Unnamed phonies, he suggests, have infiltrated the movement. There are “a lot of people who call themselves conservative but who, on many issues, I just don’t consider as conservative. They are big-government people.”

Conservatism, by most accounts, has dominated the Republican Party since 1964, when it nominated Barry Goldwater. Mr. Buchanan questions that view. For one thing, he says, Mr. Nixon, who imposed wage and price controls on the nation and outraged conservatives with his historic opening to communist China in 1972, was not a conservative. Nor in his view is President Bush or today’s Republican Party.


He was a Goldwater supporter in 1964, but Mr. Buchanan says the Arizona Republican was probably more of a libertarian than a traditional conservative. “But in 1964, he was a hard-core anti-communist, he was for downsizing big government, and on law and order, he was quite tough.”

While I often disagree with Buchanan’s vision, he is among the sharper political analysts on the American scene. He misses the boat on this one, though.

He’s correct that American conservatism is very fragmented and that there is a lot of infighting among the various factions within the “movement.” As his own words demonstrate, though, that has always been the case. Barry Goldwater was a conservative in his foreign policy but his domestic politics were not driven by religious doctrine. Richard Nixon was very conservative in his social outlook but his domestic agenda was primarily pragmatic.

Ronald Reagan was the whole conservative package philosophically–a social conservative on abortion, judicial nominees, and similar issues; an anti-Communist hawk; and a small government advocate. In practice, though, he marshalled his efforts on the foreign policy side, picked his battles on the social side, and capitulated totally on the domestic spending side.

Most non-ideologues would view George W. Bush as a conservative, too. Inside the movement, though, he gets criticized by the libertarian wing for spending too much money and cracking down too much on security issues; by the social wing for not doing enough on abortion, stem cells, moral corruption in the popular culture, and the like; by the paleocons on immigration and the culture; and by the neocons on not doing enough in Sudan.

We live in a political system that was intentionally designed to require the formation of coalitions. The first-past-the-post electoral system we use naturally leads to a Center-Left and Center-Right coalition fighting for political power, with the Center a moving target that can be swayed to the other side.

The American Conservative movement, as defined by Buchanan, isn’t dead, exactly. It was never born.

FILED UNDER: Political Theory, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. exactly correct –
    there is no american conservative movement –
    that is the propaganda that the religious right \
    is pushing -and it is they – the religious extremists of jerry falwell – etc, etc, etc-
    that control the republican party-
    And they are all liars, cheaters, and stealers, driven by the same treasonous greed that destroyed the communist soviet union

  2. Lurking Observer says:

    So, “LT,” it was greed that destroyed the USSR?

    Gee, and I’d have thought the willingness to exterminate a few dozen millions on behalf of ideology, the discouragement of entrepreneurship, and a general suffocation of the human spirit might have had a tad something to do with it?

    But, blimey, it turns out it was greed.

    How capitalist of them.