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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Which is exactly what worries Jesse Ventura, governor of Minnesota and the highest (virtually the only) elected member of the Reform party. Ventura plans to run for president in 2004 himself. He is reportedly infuriated by the idea of competition from an interloper like Buchanan. "Jesse wants a place-sitter," says Pat Choate, who in 1996 ran for vice president on the Perot ticket. "He wants someone to hold the seat. But he doesn't trust Pat not to run again."

Even more irritating to Ventura, Buchanan appears to have the tacit support of Ross Perot. Ventura asked Perot for financial support during his 1998 gubernatorial race, was denied, and has loathed the tiny Texan ever since. "Jesse's attitude is, 'If Perot is for it, I'm against it,'" says a Reform party political operative.

So far, Ventura hasn't been able to tweak the party rules in such a way as to keep Buchanan from getting the nomination. Instead, he has tried to find an alternative candidate. An early, secret overture to Warren Beatty backfired when one of Ventura's consultants blabbed about the meeting on television. Offended, Beatty hasn't communicated with Ventura since. In the past few weeks, rumors about whom Ventura will anoint -- Ralph Nader perhaps, or former Natural Law candidate John Hagelin -- have circulated throughout the party. (Reform party people spend a lot of time circulating rumors.) His almost-certain choice is Donald Trump.

Ventura and Trump first met some years ago, when Ventura, in his previous incarnation, performed at WrestleMania IV at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Shortly before Labor Day this year, Ventura called Trump and suggested that he run for the Reform party nomination. It's not as implausible as it sounds. Trump has recovered from his early-90s financial crisis and is now reputed to be worth about $ 5 billion. Thanks to his casino and apartment complex businesses, he has a customer database of more than six million names, each of them a potential political supporter. And of course he is Donald Trump. Which means that he might be arrogant enough to run for president with no prior political experience.

Finally, there is the Bush factor. There is little doubt that a Buchanan candidacy would harm George W. Bush in the general election. Trump, on the other hand, may draw from an entirely different constituency. According to a political consultant who has studied the matter, Trump supporters would be disproportionately Democratic -- black and Hispanic voters, and working-class white Catholics earning less than $ 25,000 a year. To this demographic, the consultant says, Trump is a hero. "The cars, the airplanes, the beautiful women. It's a lifestyle thing. They respect him." If this is true -- and Trump, for one, is said to believe it is -- then there is no reason the Bush campaign wouldn't do all it could to promote a Trump candidacy.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington are still trying to figure out what to make of the latest Buchanan candidacy. On Friday morning last week, Bob Adams, Buchanan's communications director, resigned from the campaign. Adams is a gentleman and, in his carefully worded statement, he refrained from saying anything unpleasant about his former boss. His contempt and bewilderment came through anyway. "I plan to do whatever it takes to support the Republican candidate for president," Adams said, emphasizing the word "Republican." Even if that candidate decides to have lunch with Lenora Fulani? Adams almost answered, then stopped himself. "I'll have to reserve comment on that," he said.

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.