-Caveat Lector-

FYI - In the mid-1990s, Tom Pauken was the Texas Chair of  the GOP.


D Magazine

The Phone Call
Why Ross Perot sabotaged his own Reform Party.
by Tom Pauken

Happier Days: In 1999, Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan were
friendly. Although Buchanan was more conservative on social
issues, Perot believed Buchanan could save his Reform Party.

In the fall of 1999, Ross Perot had seemingly agreed to a
plan for his Reform Party. His cohorts had invited Pat
Buchanan and his ³Buchanan Brigades² into the party to blunt
a takeover attempt by Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota.
The loudmouthed, coarse ex-wrestler flaunts his contempt for
values Perot holds dear, so it was no surprise that the former
presidential candidate would find a means to stop him. Pat
Buchanan, on the other hand, is articulate, media-savvy, and,
even if more conservative than Perot on social issues, has
fought beside him on the issues Perot cares about. With
Buchanan as its candidate, the Reform Party would use its
$12.5 million in federal matching funds to continue Perotıs
campaign for economic nationalism, campaign finance reform,
and the elimination of foreign influence in the nationıs capital.

But by late September 2000, the Reform Party had been
wrecked by trench warfare between Perotistas and
Buchananites, Buchanan was barely registering 1 percent in
the polls, and, after a flurry of lawsuits, the Buchanan
campaign was still waiting for the $12.5 million in federal

Why did Perot turn with such a vengeance against
Buchanan? Even Buchanan is perplexed, as I found when I
talked with him in early September. Buchanan wouldnıt
respond when I asked him directly what he thought Perotıs
motives might be for reversing field and derailing his candidacy.
Others close to Buchanan were less reticent. From their
perspective, Perotıs ego in the end could not abide giving up
control of ³his² party.

But, as I discovered, the reason the Reform Party shot at establishing a
third party since Theodore
Roosevelt November has nothing to do with Perotıs famous ego. The
turnabout can be traced to a phone call made to Ross Perot by
a close friend in Dallas.

In early July of last year, Perot ally (and 1996 vice presidential
candidate) Pat Choate and Perot right-hand man Rus Verney
approached Bay Buchanan, Patıs sister and campaign adviser,
with a proposition. Choate and Verney argued convincingly that
Buchanan should abandon the GOP and run for the Reform
Party nomination. Buchanan and Perot agreed on many
fundamental issues. They both favor a trade policy that puts
Americaıs interests first. They are opponents of free trade
deals like NAFTA and GATT. Both have warned about the loss
of national sovereignty to international organizations like the
WTO. Perot had even invited Buchanan to speak at a United
We Stand conference in 1995, where Buchanan had wowed
the audience with a speech echoing many of Perotıs favorite
themes. ³We can deliver the Reform Party nomination to Pat,²
Choate told Bay.

Buchanan bit. He unleashed his ³peasant army² to help
Perot forces fend off a takeover attempt by Ventura. The
Buchanan Brigades moved quickly to take over or reestablish
Reform Party organizations in states all across the country.
Within a few months, the Buchanan and Perot forces had
enough votes to take back control of the partyıs national
committee (which Venturaıs forces had captured). The infusion
of Buchananıs recruits into the party had made the difference.
Ventura threw up his hands in disgust and announced that he
and his supporters were abandoning the Reform Party for good.

Immediately fissions appeared. Verney expected to regain
his former post as party chairman. But Buchanan supporters,
who had grown to distrust Perotıs chief political aide, joined
with other disaffected Reform Party leaders to place Choate in
the top post. This split between the two longtime friends and
allies signaled an underlying rift in the party. Choate
announced he would do all he could to help Pat Buchanan
secure the partyıs nomination at its Long Beach convention in

For his part, Verney confirmed Buchananıs suspicions by
announcing he would stop Buchanan at all costs. ³Verney
promised a bloodbath,² says Choate now, ³and he delivered
one in Long Beach.²

Perotıs hand in this reversal is difficult to verify because
Perot isnıt talking. He refers all Reform Party matters to
Verney. But Dallas sources who know Perot well are skeptical
that a paid staffer like Verney would freelance on a matter so
crucial as the partyıs candidate for president.

Something caused Ross Perot to change his mind about
Buchanan. And once Perotıs mind was changed, the Perot
people showed they would go to any length to deny Buchanan
the nomination.

First, Verney tried to recruit Donald Trump to run. After a few
weeks of flirtation, played out in the tabloids, Trump declined to
go head-to-head against the Buchanan Brigades. Trumpıs
dalliance with the headlines took so long that when he finally
backed out, Verney found himself left with no better alternative
than physicist John Hagelin, candidate of the Maharishi
Mahesh Yogiıs Natural Law Party. Among other things,
Hagelin believes in levitation through meditation. As political
observer John OıSullivan notes, ³Hagelin is one of the very few
physicists who believes he can fly.²

Why would Perot descend so far to stop Buchanan? Was it
ego? Some Buchananites recall how Perot blocked former
Colorado Governor Richard Lammıs bid for the nomination in
1996. But Perot was still active in the party at that time and
had made a credible showing in the presidential race four years
before. Perot hasnıt been actively involved since. And if it was
ego, how to explain the bizarre endorsement of Flying John

Other Buchanan supporters believe Perotıs opposition stems
from his disagreement with Buchanan over social issues such
as abortion. And it is true that many of the Reform delegates
who walked out of the convention in Long Beach did so
because they are ³social liberals² opposed to Buchananıs
strong pro-life stance. But these issues are not at the top of
Perotıs agenda. Even Verney confirms that ³we all knew where
Buchanan stood on the abortion issue when we invited him
enthusiastically into the party.²

The clue to Perotıs about-face is when Perot himself refused to
meet with Pat Buchanan a few months after Buchanan had
switched to the Reform Party. He wouldnıt even take
Buchananıs phone calls, according to people in Buchananıs
camp. The timing is significant.

In September 1999, after Buchanan had been recruited into
the Reform Party, his new book A Republic, Not an Empire
was published. The book, of course, had taken months to write
and prepare for publication. In it Buchanan made the case that
America should have let the two totalitarian regimes of Nazi
Germany and the Soviet Union fight it out between themselves
first before intervening in WWII. Buchanan had already crossed
swords with leaders of the American Jewish community with
comments heıd made opposing the Persian Gulf War (which
Perot also opposed). Those comments had led some to
accuse Buchanan of anti-Semitism. Now all the old charges
were resurrected in a flurry of attacks in the major media
circles. Former friend and fellow Nixon speechwriter William
Safire even went so far as to accuse Buchanan of going after
the ³Hitler vote.²

It was a rocky moment for Buchanan. While he survived
politically and continued full-steam ahead with his campaign for
the Reform nomination, the charges did not sit well back in
Dallas. A close associate of Perot explained to me that Perot
prides himself on having good social and business
relationships with leaders in the Jewish community. One of his
good friends is Liener Temerlin, co-founder of Dallas-based
Temerlin McClain Advertising and a prominent Jewish civic

Temerlin had made no bones about his belief that Buchanan
was guilty of anti-Semitism. His views on the subject were so
well known that a while ago, his friend Perot even played a
practical joke on him. One day Temerlin looked out the window
of his house to see none other than Ross Perot out in his
driveway. When he went outside, Perot didnıt have a very good
explanation of what he was doing there. Temerlin didnıt think
much about it until he realized he had been driving around for a
week with a Buchanan bumper sticker on his car.

The joke may have been good fun at the time, but a
Buchanan presidential bid was no laughing matter to Temerlin.
When it became clear in news reports that Perot had invited
Buchanan into the Reform Party and was all but handing him
its nomination, Temerlin made a phone call to his good friend.

I heard about this phone call from sources close to Perot.
When I called Temerlin to confirm it, he politely declined to
characterize its content. He told me he had a confidential
conversation with Perot, but he wouldnıt discuss the
substance. I later asked Rus Verney if he thought Buchanan is
an anti-Semite. ³No, but there is a perception that he is,²
Verney said. ³And perception can become reality if the issue
isnıt addressed.²

One thing about that conversation with Temerlin is certain. A
short time thereafter, the Perot forces turned against
Buchanan. The open embrace turned into a ³scorched earth²
policy that was intent on destroying the party if that were the
only means of keeping Buchanan from gaining control of it.

Whether Buchanan can overcome all of the roadblocks put in
his way by the Perot forces by garnering the minimum 5
percent to stay viable is up in the air. The conventional wisdom
is that Buchanan and the movement he represents are finished
politically. Most conservative activists have decided to stick
with the Republican Party, at least through this election.
Buchananıs diehard supporters are under no illusion about the
difficulties they face. Nonetheless, they are intent on building a
serious conservative third party, no matter what happens this

When I talked with Buchanan, he was just recovering from
gall bladder surgery and preparing to hit the campaign trail.
Buchanan seemed dispirited. He had spent a year battling
furiously to win a nomination he had been led to believe would
be handed to him. Now Ross Perot himself had finally surfaced
after being almost invisible during the brutal internal struggles
of his party, signing an affidavit to the effect that Hagelin, the
³flying yogic,² should get the partyıs matching funds.

But Buchanan didnıt earn his combative reputation by being
a wallflower. As we talked his spirits seemed to rise. He told
me about his favorite movie, Shane. In the movie, Shane
stands up for a bunch of farmers being harassed by a powerful
rancher who wants to run them out of the Wyoming territory. In
the final gunfight, Shane takes out the rancherıs hired gunman.
I later rented the movie and sat down to watch it. Before riding
off into the sunset, the hero makes two statements that sound
like they came from Buchanan himself. Shane tells the young
son of a farmer that ³a man has to be what he is² and ³thereıs
no going back.²

I can see why Buchanan loves the movie. But then Shane
never got into a gunfight with H. Ross Perot.

Tom Pauken is a D Magazine contributing editor.


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