Within his own party, Bush faced an unexpectedly strong primary challenge from columnist Pat Buchanan. After growing up in Washington, DC, earning degrees at Georgetown and Columbia, working as a White House aide in two Republican administrations, and logging many hours on the television talk-show circuit, Buchanan was yet another insider who took up outsiderism. Specifically, he became a spokesperson for a faction of conservatism that disdained internationalism and free trade, and even flirted with Holocaust denial. Bush’s support for NAFTA and Israel outraged him. “He is yesterday and we are tomorrow,” Buchanan said in his announcement speech. “He is a globalist and we are nationalists. He believes in some Pax Universalis; we believe in the Old Republic. He would put American's wealth and power at the service of some vague New World Order; we will put America first.”After the Los Angeles riots, he placed much of the blame for disorder on undocumented immigrants: “foreigners are coming into this country illegally and helping to burn down one of the greatest cities in America.” His solution will sound familiar to those who saw the 2016 campaign: “If I were President, I would have the (Army) Corps of Engineers build a double-barrier fence that would keep out 95% of the illegal traffic. I think it can be done.”
Buchanan also saw the budding desperation of the white working class. In his 1992 convention address, he said:
There were the workers at the James River Paper Mill, in the frozen North Country of New Hampshire–hard, tough men, one of whom was silent, until I shook his hand. Then he looked up in my eyes and said, “Save our jobs!” There was the legal secretary at the Manchester airport on Christmas Day who told me she was going to vote for me, then broke down crying, saying, “I’ve lost my job, I don’t have any money; they’re going to take away my daughter. What am I going to do?”
The social and economic forces driving the two Americas apart had been brewing for a long time. But why did they have such impact in 2016, and not ten years earlier? One reason was the Great Recession, which slammed working-class communities, and whose effects lingered long after its official conclusion. In 2016, Pat Buchanan looked back at his 1992 race and told journalist Jeff Greenfield: “Those issues started maturing. Now we’ve lost 55,000 factories. … When those consequences came rolling in, all of a sudden you’ve got an angry country. We were out there warning what was coming.