We'll always have Texas

Lenora Fulani and Pat Buchanan say goodbye.

By Anthony York

Published June 19, 2000 6:09PM (EDT)

Pat Buchanan and Lenora Fulani exchanged "Dear John" letters today, bringing the unlikely union of the social conservative and longtime leftist to a formal end. Though tensions had been brewing between the two sides for weeks, Fulani's resignation as co-chair of the Buchanan campaign Monday comes at an inopportune time for Buchanan, as Reform Party voters begin to cast ballots in the party's presidential primary.

"Well, I regret to see it," said former Reform Party chairman Pat Choate, who has been a Buchanan supporter. "I have an enormous respect for Lenora Fulani and consider her a personal friend. On the other hand, I can see her perspective. I sense that what is happening here is she's opening up her latitude to mount a campaign for the party chairmanship."

That vote will be made at the party's convention this summer in Long Beach, Calif. The convention is also expected to feature a floor fight for the party's presidential nomination and control of $12.6 million in federal matching funds.

"There's going to be a real fight at the convention," said Choate. "It's going to be what a political convention should be, not some $70 million Hollywood scripted event."

In her letter of resignation, Fulani alluded to a quid pro quo in which she would support Buchanan's presidential bid in exchange for Buchanan's support of Fulani as national chairwoman of the Reform Party.

Buchanan responded with a letter of his own, saying that he did not feel Fulani at the head of the party would "be in the interests of our campaign. This is not because you lack the talent or ability ... however I do not believe you could unify the party at Long Beach."

"I think it's an alliance that served both of their interests very well," Choate said of the Fulani/Buchanan connection. "It enabled him to take on Ventura. At the same time, this whole thing helped Lenora have a major podium to speak. She and Pat both benefited from that. It just seems to me that they're at a point where Lenora is going to run for chair of the party and Pat will probably be backing one of his supporters. There seems to be a very normal progression here."

One of Buchanan's rivals for the Reform Party nomination, John Hagelin, welcomed Fulani's resignation. "I anticipated it, of course," Hagelin said. Though Fulani has not endorsed Hagelin's bid, he said: "Lenora is really dedicated to grass-roots democracy and she more or less already assured me that she would never let Buchanan overthrow the public plebiscite. So in a sense -- the most important sense -- I feel I've already had Fulani's support. I respect her unwillingness to play that game."

When asked whether he would support Fulani for chairwoman, Hagelin said: "I have to talk to her and see. Within the Reform Party, my whole strategy has been to stay above the fray and promote party unity. We'll just have to see whether she is the person to best unify the party."

Fulani's letter of resignation:

Dear Pat,

This letter is my resignation as co-chair of Buchanan Reform 2000.

When you first made your decision to leave the Republican Party and join the Reform Party to seek its presidential nomination, you and your campaign manager Bay Buchanan approached me, asking for support for your candidacy. My decision to give that support was based on several premises. First, that you would seek to unify the party and thereby project it as a party open to all the American people. I strongly recommended to you that you not take sides in the internecine fights between those allied with Ross Perot and those allied with Jesse Ventura and that you make a substantial investment in reaching out to the party's independent sector. I advised you to use your stature as a public figure -- and my support of your candidacy -- to bring people in the party together.

Second, we acknowledged and agreed that we had pervasive differences on social issues. However, your support for the party's core principle of political reform and our agreement on many matters concerning trade and foreign policy was sufficient basis for an alliance. I felt comfortable with our disagreements. Indeed, I thought they enhanced the projection of our partnership as a left/right coalition -- a construct which has been central to the principles of the Reform Party from the beginning. In November, I publicly endorsed your candidacy for the Reform Party nomination and accepted a position as a co-chair of the Buchanan campaign.

You then began to concern yourself with the task of accessing the ballot, qualifying for the Reform Party primary and positioning yourself to win the nomination. At that point disputes began to break out within various state parties which were electing delegates to our National Convention. I attempted to mediate numbers of these "on the ground" disputes.

My position was and remains that you had every right to bring your forces into Reform and to have them participate fully in the organizational life of the party. Insofar as your forces overwhelmed anemic state organizations and captured delegate seats as a result, it is my opinion that you were entitled to do so. My sole concern was the extent to which your actions "on the ground" were contributing to polarizing, rather than unifying the disparate forces in the party, having the destructive effect of driving scores of activists away. In various situations I made recommendations to you about how to proceed to help you win friends and propel the party forward. In a few cases, you took my advice. In many you did not. That was, of course, your prerogative and your call.

More and more scenarios unfolded at the state level that caused further dissension in the party. In particular, you blocked with the Dallas-led forces, helping them to regain strength they had lost at the Dearborn convention when more than 60 percent of the delegates -- mine included -- voted to reject the Dallas leadership and elected Jack Gargan as chair. Again, you had every right to make that choice, though you risked alienating the party's independents by doing so.

This pattern reached its pinnacle at the National Committee meeting in Nashville where you, over my strenuous objections and my concerted efforts to reunify the party, directed your allies to vote with Dallas to remove Gargan from the chairmanship. During the credentialing process, when the vote to seat the New York Independence Party delegation allied with me was nearly ratified, your supporters suddenly switched their votes to recognize the rival Jack Essenberg delegation (whose legitimacy had just been struck down by the courts), which provided the votes needed to assure Gargan's removal.

That was a critical turning point in the party's internal affairs. Not only was the party hopelessly split, but you demonstrated that you were more than willing to "stick it" to your friends, as well as your enemies, to achieve your own (and in this case, Dallas') ends. Though you now call for unity and have made an appeal to the party to overlook disagreements and come together, your appeal is unfortunately five months too late.

Many in the party are now upset and unhappy with you and your campaign. Some have deliberately fed the media's insatiable appetite for controversy and scandal. While I don't agree with how you have handled many situations and while we disagree -- as we have from the start -- on social issues, I respect your right to make your own decisions. However, those decisions have had ramifications and it is those ramifications I wish to address and which cause me to tender my resignation as co-chair of your campaign effective immediately.

After the initial announcement of my endorsement of your candidacy -- an announcement that explicitly put forth a new right/left coalition and proclaimed your intention to broaden your base beyond its social conservative borders -- you began to backtrack off of that promise. You shaped your actual campaign -- both inside and outside the party -- to appeal to a narrow constituency in ways that increasingly excluded me, my adherents inside the party and the base to which I relate.

Some people have vocally criticized you for being a social conservative and have rejected your candidacy on that basis. That is not my issue. I never objected to you or your social conservative followers becoming part of a non-ideological pro-reform coalitional party. To the contrary, I welcomed you. But I must and do object to your efforts to transform the party into a party of and for only social conservatives.

As I told you when you and I met last week, I believe that decision was and is a mistake. You and Bay have both told me that the choices you made were, in large measure, determined by what the Brigades would and wouldn't accept, and that they wouldn't accept a broadening of your message and your associations. You may be right. However, throughout the course of our partnership I have met many of your followers who enthusiastically welcomed me and our coalition. I remain touched by their desire to go beyond the divisions that afflict our country. While this particular effort failed, I believe that millions of Americans are seeking leaders capable of bringing ordinary people from across the political spectrum together.

You now appear to be close to succeeding in your goal. Thus the issue for me became whether there was any role for me in your campaign. When you and I met, we discussed much of this history and I put a proposal on the table. I asked you to support me for the position of National Chair at our upcoming convention. As a founder of the party, having received 45 percent of the vote for Vice Chair in Dearborn last year, as a leader of the party's largest state affiliate and having been a part of the Buchanan coalition from the beginning, supporting me for chair was the test of whether you still intended to broaden your coalition and maintain the party's commitment to left/center/right alliances. You and Bay rejected my request. You have thus indicated to me that you are fully committed to using your campaign to change the fundamental character of the Reform Party in a direction that most American independents do not support.

Consequently, I withdraw my endorsement of your bid for the Reform nomination and I resign my position as co-chair of your campaign. I continue to be a "card-carrying member" of the Reform Party and an active participant in all of its affairs and those of the state party I proudly serve.


Lenora Fulani

Buchanan's response:

Dear Lenora:

I have received your letter of resignation as campaign co-chair, and do not dispute your rendition of events -- except to say this:

While we did finally accede to the Dallas faction to support the removal of Jack Gargan as co-chair at Nashville, we did so only after we came to believe it was essential for peace in the party. That is also why, instead of supporting Dallas' choice for chair, we supported Pat Choate, a unifying figure who, indeed, had brought you into the Buchanan campaign. I, too, was personally offended at how shabbily Jack Gargan was treated at Nashville.

And while you understandably were angered at Nashville when the Buchanan delegation voted first to seat your New York delegation, then reversed itself, let me explain: Our campaign had come to a collective decision to support Pat Choate; and you, as our co-chair, declined to support our decision. Yet, even then, our delegation was instructed to vote to seat your New York faction -- but, during the voting, somebody called an audible at the line of scrimmage. Our folks assumed the orders had come from headquarters, and stood and reversed their votes. I regret that; but we felt that the interests of the Buchanan campaign had to come before any marginal gains to be won in intra-party fighting in which we had no real interest.

Third, and more importantly, on the issues: If you read the speeches I have given in the last six months -- on campaign and political reform, deconstructing the New World Order, a more moral foreign policy -- you will find there ideas with which you strongly agree. I do not recall your opposition to any of these; indeed, you seemed to have been enthusiastic about them. With regard to what you call the "social issues," I do believe the deepest problems in our society are not economic or political, but moral. And while the solution to our social crisis may lie less in politics than the human heart, I am and remain proudly pro-life. Moreover, I believe that political leaders must defend the moral order rooted in the Old and New Testament and Natural Law that is under relentless assault; just as we must defend our heritage, history, and heroes, now being denigrated. Else, our society is on a permanent downhill run, as is our country.

Fourth, on your insistence in New York last week that our campaign support you for Chair of the Party, as Bay told you, we do not believe that would be in the interests of our campaign or the Party. This is not because you lack the talent or ability; you have far more than enough. However, I do not believe you could unify the party at Long Beach; and any attempt by us to push your nomination through a defiant party would backfire, fail, and divide us for the fall, and for the future.

While there are going to be delegate battles right up to Long Beach, if we win that nomination, we are going to be there, first, with the oil can, and we will do what is necessary to unite and energize this party, and by that I mean all of its factions, for the fall. We want to put off any further intra-party feuds until we have given Reform the kind of leadership, campaign, and national recognition we believe will put the Reform Party on America's political map -- for good. Anybody who is with us in that cause is welcome to join us.

Let me say finally, in all our dealings, I have found you to be honest, direct, straightforward, and tough-minded always -- even when we disagree -- and, from what I see as your own standpoint and agenda, I cannot disagree with your decision to separate yourself from our campaign. Yet, with personal best wishes,

Pat Buchanan

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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