When Pat Buchanan made his latest overture to the Reform Party Sunday on "Meet the Press," is it possible he was flirting with potential readers as much as voters?
It may be more than coincidence that Buchanan chose to stage his biggest news splash the week after his new book, "A Republic, Not an Empire," hit the stands. Since its release Sept. 1, Buchanan's book, from small, conservative Regnery Publishing, has moved steadily up the ranks of online book sales. Amazon.com has "Republic" ranked No. 185.
Just hours after Buchanan all but resigned from the Republican Party in front of Tim Russert and millions of viewers Sunday morning, e-mail members of the Buchanan Brigade received this breathless salutation:
"HQ is going wild -- phones jammed, every fax machine burning up, e-mail has almost tripled -- and all because Pat was on 'Meet the Press' yesterday." The note ended with an invitation to "check out all of the new info on Pat's new book, 'A Republic, Not an Empire' and other news." A cynical observer could be forgiven for wondering if Buchanan scheduled his TV revelation to boost his book sales, not just his Reform Party support.
Tomes, memoirs and manifestos have long been hallmarks of the campaign season. But the new synergy of book sales and political campaigns has been facilitated by the growth of the Internet, which has changed the way people buy and sell both books and candidates. The pacesetter is Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is in the middle of a 15-city book and campaign tour. McCain has received praise for his autobiography, "Faith of My Fathers."
The New York Times reported that "Faith" had reached as high as No. 5 on the Amazon.com bestseller list. Tuesday, it slipped to No. 11 as the candidate began his California campaign swing/book tour, which will include five book signings over the next three days.
Other candidates have not fared as well as McCain -- but there are some striking parallels between the candidates' standings in book sales, and their presidential poll numbers. The Steve Forbes campaign, which received a recent bump from his second-place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll, has been bolstered by decent advance sales numbers for "A New Birth of Freedom." The book's current Amazon.com sales rank is 7,630 -- not bad, considering it won't be officially published until Oct. 1.
Compare that to former Vice President Dan Quayle, whose presidential run has failed to generate interest among Republican voters to date. Amazon readers seem to concur, leaving Quayle's "Worth Fighting For," released last June, on the virtual shelf. The book is currently languishing at No. 16,835 on the Amazon list.
Internet book sales may also hold an ominous warning for Vice President Al Gore. Granted, his former bestseller, "Earth in the Balance," was published way back in 1993, but Gore's new presidential run has yet to translate into reinvigorated sales. Though the book is still ranked higher than Quayle's, at 11,018 -- and his 1995 snoozer "Common Sense Government," which he co-authored with President Clinton, registered way back at 128,739 -- both books lagged far behind a pair of books penned by his Democratic presidential rival, Bill Bradley.
Bradley's 1997 memoir, "Time Present, Time Past," seems to be riding Bradley's recent momentum on the campaign trail -- it's ranked 5,874 by Amazon. "Values of the Game," which he co-authored with former teammate and Bulls coach Phil Jackson is number 5,590 on the list.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, not known for his love of great literature, has yet to enter the book-writing primary. Of course, if he chose to pen a memoir on what he did more than 25 years ago when he was "young and irresponsible," it would no doubt rocket to the bestseller list. But voters' support might lag a bit behind.