A few Republicans saw the explosion coming long ago. As early as 2001, Tim Pawlenty, later Minnesota’s governor and a presidential candidate, warned that the GOP needed “to be the party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club.”
Mr. Buchanan tapped into anti-immigration anger in his first presidential campaign in 1992. “We were saying: ‘This is what’s going to happen,’” Mr. Buchanan recalls. “And it happened.”
Why did so many other supposedly smart politicians not see Mr. Trump’s soldiers gathering?
“It really is the elitism,” says Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia. The attitude of many in the party was “we’re smart, and they’re stupid, and we’ll just feed them abortion and guns,” he says. “It didn’t have to be this way.”
In his speech to the Republican Convention in 1992, Mr. Buchanan challenged the party to stand up for middle-class workers still struggling to emerge from that era’s recession. He cited loggers in northern California put out of work to protect the spotted owl and Korean-American business owners who stood up to looters during the Los Angeles riots.
“They are our people, and we need to reconnect with them,” said Mr. Buchanan, a former White House aide to Messrs. Nixon and Reagan. “We need to let them know we know they’re hurting.”
Republican leaders thought Mr. Buchanan’s failure showed the limited appeal of his message. A better explanation is that much of it was siphoned away by billionaire populist Ross Perot, who ran in 1992 as an independent and in 1996 as a third-party candidate. He got 19% of the vote in 1992.