While Pat Buchanan was slogging through New Hampshire last February, 150 militia-types and self-styled constitutionalists were holed up in a Wichita hotel ballroom.  Former Arizona governor Evan Mecham emceed a line-up of wannabe presidential candidates seeking the ballroom’s endorsement. California state senator Don Rogers wanted the nod.  But Charles Collins, a nobody from Georgia who frequents the militia circuit, won the vote.  It must have been because his were the only signs that looked new.

 Larry Pratt, the Gun Owners of America executive and Buchanan campaign co-chair, was scheduled to speak but didn’t show.  He probably didn’t want to add to the troubles he had already caused Pat. The Populist Party was now reduced to a literature table for the American Nationalist Union.  Around the conference edges were warnings about the Illuminatti and other evil conspiracies to undermine U.S. sovereignty and plunge the world into the End Times, as well as brave militiamen ready to shoulder arms in the Kansas wheat fields.

 Only Howard Phillips, the seventies New Right guru turned U.S. Taxpayers Party chief, seemed to have enough political cents to rub together and make a quarter.  He was sitting on the Wichita sidelines, in what appeared to be a scouting mission for his own Taxpayers Party’s convention this August in San Diego, which he plans to hold just days after the Republicans’.  Phillips has backed Buchanan all through the Republican primaries. In a 1994 debate with American Conservative Union director David Keene, Phillips charged the Republicans with being “the primary obstacle blocking our success.” This year, after the G.O.P. nominates Bob Dole, Phillips wants Buchanan to accept the Taxpayers’ nomination.  In this scenario, Pat would lead a breakaway from the Republican convention into the Taxpayers’ open arms. The long process of building a grass roots organization, a la the Christian Coalition, could be circumvented by Buchanan’s saving grace.

 The Taxpayers’ convention will feature Larry Pratt, former Operation Rescue heavy Randall Terry and gold bug Don McAlvaney, who has been making the rounds at survivalist expos. If Phillips thinks that this crowd plus any of the Wichita talent will convince Buchanan to sign on, he is mistaken.

 Sam Francis has also been urging Buchanan to bolt the Republicans, which he routinely excoriates as the “Stupid Party.” Pat has listened, but he’s not likely to do anything that will help Clinton’s re-election.  For all his “lock and load” rhetoric, Buchanan can easily survey his own troops.  To date, they haven’t developed the sophistication necessary to carry a national campaign outside the structures of the Republican Party.  In addition to financial hurdles and difficulty getting ballot status, a new generation Buchananites, like Democratic Jessecrats a decade before them, is running for (and sometimes winning) local offices on the Republican ticket.  They will not easily abandon the inroads they have already made.

 Despite Phillips’ entreaties, any premature break with the Republicans will deliver Buchanan completely to Jared Taylor’s neo-Confederates and the militiatypes populating the edges of that Wichita ballroom.  Even Sam Francis can see the folly in that course.  “What the radicalism of the populist and revolutionary right needs,” he wrote last year in Chronicles, is “an alternative to the conspiratorial and pseudoparamilitary infantilism that now informs it.” Until that alternative appears, Pat Buchanan will remain one unhappy Republican.

Research assistance by Devin Burghart and Robert Crawford.