The Magazine

Buchanan and His Friends

Is Pat serious about the Reform Party? Enough to lunch with Lenora Fulani

Sep 27, 1999, Vol. 5, No. 02 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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LENORA FULANI has never been ashamed of being called a radical. As a leader of the hard-left (and now defunct) New Alliance party, Fulani ran for president twice on a platform so extreme she was dismissed by the Nation as a fringe case. Long a slogan-shouting fixture at leftist demonstrations in New York, Fulani has over the years formed political alliances with Al Sharpton, Leonard Jeffries, and Louis Farrakhan. She knows Tawana Brawley personally. She spent years in analysis with a lesbian Gestalt therapist. She is, in short, not the sort of person you'd expect to see having lunch with Pat Buchanan.

Yet there she was last Monday dining and talking politics with Buchanan in the restaurant of the Essex House Hotel in Manhattan. By the end of the meal, Fulani had made it clear she would support Buchanan's run for president on the Reform party ticket.

The most unlikely political coupling since Elvis met Nixon? Undoubtedly, especially since Buchanan and Fulani still share very few of the same beliefs. "There was a fair amount of levity and self-conscious humor about how we were all at the table together," says Jacqueline Salit, a longtime New Alliance party activist who was also at the lunch. As his wife Shelley and sister Bay looked on, Salit says, Buchanan chatted with Fulani about the presidential race, the Reform party's latest convention, the difficulties of mounting a third-party campaign -- virtually everything, in other words, except the innumerable subjects on which they violently disagree.

Which makes sense, says Salit, who like Fulani and New Alliance guru Fred Newman joined the Reform party in 1996. "This party is about being a non-ideological force for political change." Non-ideological? Isn't Buchanan the original caricature of a foam-specked ideologue? Exactly, says Salit. "That's one of the things Pat brings to the table, that he is so ideological. It's a way to make a point about the non-ideological nature of the party."

There's a certain Zen quality to Salit's logic, but it doesn't seem to have deterred Buchanan, who every day comes closer to leaving the Republican party. Will Buchanan take the Reform plunge? Almost certainly. For one thing, it's clear that Buchanan has decided he wants the Reform nomination -- wants it badly enough to seek the blessing of Lenora Fulani (which, non-ideological political change notwithstanding, must have required steely self-discipline and an enormous amount of pride swallowing). For another, there may be no one in the Reform party who can stop him.

Until recently there has been quite a bit of confusion over what it takes to win the Reform party nomination -- which is not surprising for a movement formed in the wake of a single appearance on Larry King Live. Many of the party's guiding documents are grammatically suspect and, in general, difficult to understand. Decipher the dangling modifiers and it turns out that anyone who wants the party's nomination in 2000 will have to get his name on the ballot in more than 20 states (states in which the Reform party does not have a permanent line), and then win the majority of votes in an election open to anyone who requests a Reform party ballot.

In theory, the nomination is a wide-open contest. In practice, Buchanan is one of the few people who could win. It might cost a neophyte $ 25 million to qualify in the necessary states. Buchanan, with his extensive mailing lists and nationwide organization, could probably do it for $ 2 million. Moreover, many of Buchanan's current supporters are Buchananites rather than Republicans, and therefore likely to stay with him regardless of his party affiliation.

After winning the nomination, Buchanan would be eligible for the nearly $ 13 million in federal matching funds the Reform party will receive this year. (Bay Buchanan was on the phone with FEC lawyers last week making certain that her brother, as a refugee from the GOP, would not be barred from receiving the money.) With federal dollars and a decent fund-raising effort -- including the soft money a few wealthy Buchanan backers could pour into the Reform party -- Buchanan might do fairly well in the general election. A 20 percent showing (and it's not impossible) would make the Reform party eligible for tens of millions in federal money for the 2004 election. At which point, Buchanan could run again, better-funded than ever. It could go on forever.