Formerly omnipresent television Republican Pat Buchanan played an outsized role in turning the Republican Party toward overt, panicked white nationalism. He was once a staple of pundit programming, using shows like Crossfire as a perch for the now-formulaic prescription of reducing every political argument to two sides, to be argued over and decided by two political hacks with no knowledge of or interest in each issue other than as partisan club. Now Buchanan’s rhetoric has begun to decay steadily toward the white cultural panic commonly known as the Great Replacement theory.
White folks were being outbred by other races, he warned in essays and in books. Immigration was an “invasion” that would doom our white national culture. He had praise for the “courage” of Hitler, had sympathy for segregation, for interracial dating bans, and for theories of white genetic superiority. But as his writing and his speeches began to focus more and more exclusively on white nationalist arguments and conspiracy theories, the various networks could no longer stomach his presence. Republicans began to dodge him. He ended up a Reform Party presidential candidate in 2000, and then mostly disappeared—at long last—entirely.
Now Maryland Public Television is putting the racist conspiracy theorist back on television, granting him a seat on a rebooted McLaughlin Group so that he can pipe up with his Theories on America Today, New and Enhanced Version. And this, right here, is how the Republican Party decayed into a white nationalist movement. And this, right here, is how the nation’s media outlets and pundit class helped it every step of the way.
It is because of Pat Buchanan and other pundits who discovered that there was a new appetite for the racism of their youth, before the troubles, and that not only was their audience hungry for their racist claims to be spelled out more explicitly, but it turned out there were not, after all, any significant party consequences for doing so. It was not until you began to crunch your hull against the rocks of Well, maybe Hitler had a few good points that you would begin to see pushback—everything up to that point was, it turned out, fair game. Not only did conservatives begin to realize that nobody truly cared about the old boundaries, but the executives that hosted them began to realize that ignoring the old boundaries made for “Good Television.” Shock value was what punditry needed, the thing that would turn news networks into entertainment machines. Shock value, making claims appalling enough or dishonest enough to make the other side wince and sputter, was what would turn punditry from an excruciating wonk-fest to a camera-friendly blood sport.