Buchanan's Shock Troops

They were at Pat Buchanan's side throughout his New Hampshire jihad against George Bush: hungry, hellbent young conservatives pledged to help their new mentor cleanse the Republican Party of what he calls "the Exeter-Yale GOP club." These are no ordinary campaign brats. They're a new generation of right-wing strategists, nurtured by Reaganites who staged their own 1976 uprising against Gerald Ford. They view the Bush presidency as a betrayal of the Reagan revolution and regard Buchanan as an avenging angel. Growing up in the Reagan-Bush era gives them an unusual edge. Unlike their '70s role models, they actually remember when conservatives held power. And they're hungry to get it back for themselves. "We want our turn," says Frank Luntz, the 29-year-old Oxford Ph.D. who serves as Buchanan's polltaker.

The young Buchananites are heirs to a renegade conservative tradition--one that both exalts polities as a battle for the soul and disdains its inside dealmaking. The founding fathers were the Buckley clan (polemicist Bill; brother Jim, a former U.S. senator, and brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell) and the New South Republicans led by Sen. Strom Thurmond and textile giant Roger Milliken. Organizations like Young Americans for Freedom, founded by Bill Buckley, and the College Young Republicans, a creation of the GOP, supplied shock troops for the alliance. It triggered the 1960s backlash against Great Society liberalism, bringing Northern ethnic Roman Catholics and Southern white Democrats into the GOP. The movement culminated in Ronald Reagan's 1980 election.

It also produced formative political experiences for much of Buchanan's inner circle. Political director Paul Erickson, 30 (presumably forgiven by Buchanan for attending Yale), is a former College Young Republicans national director. Luntz reveres James Buckley and remembers service in his unsuccessful 1980 Senate campaign as a personal high point. Bozell's son, L. Brent Bozell III, serves as Buchanan's national finance chairman. Those affinities make their brand of conservatism second nature. They also breed contempt for Reagan-era role models now comfortably ensconced in Bush administration posts or lucrative Washington consultancies (lobbyist and Bush adviser Charlie Black was a 28-year-old political director for Reagan in 1976).

Despite their relatively tender political years, the Buchananites come to 1992 with a long history of conservative bomb-throwing. The younger Bozell, who publishes a newsletter monitoring leftist bias in the media, put together the television spot questioning the ethical standing of Sens. Edward Kennedy, Joseph Biden and Alan Cranston, liberal Democrats screening Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court nomination. Buchanan press secretary Greg Mueller, 29, coordinated publicity for the ad. Mueller's media consulting clients have also included radio yakker Rush Limbaugh, the Freedom Alliance (Ollie North's political organization) and Americans for Bush, the group that produced the infamous Willie Horton television ad during the 1988 presidential campaign.

Mueller, Bozell and Luntz all cut their teeth at the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), cofounded by the late Terry Dolan. It raised big money for "independent" ad campaigns that unseated a number of liberal incumbents in the early 1980s with vicious attacks depicting them as amoral, tax-hiking com-symps. "They enjoy the rough stuff," says GOP consultant Craig Shirley. "If they have a guiding philosophy, it's that politics ain't beanbag."

Adult supervision in the campaign comes from another alienated Reaganite, Buchanan's sister Angela (Bay) Buchanan. While the younger staffers supply the muscle, the hard-driving former U.S. treasurer enjoys the last word on virtually all organizational questions. Her obsessive attention to detail extends from Buchanan's public appearances-at a parking-lot rally last week, she interrupted his speech to get him to lift the bullhorn he was using a few inches higher-to the final cut of television spots. "If Pat is Type A, then Bay is Type AAA," says Erickson. As a sibling, she can also offer no-bull counsel. She says she's encouraged him to back away from constant attacks on Bush and emphasize his capacity to govern. "I tell him, 'This isn't "Crossfire," guy'," she told NEWSWEEK.

Buchanan and his warriors are likely to stay in the race until the GOP convention in Houston-just as their Reagan-era counterparts battled Ford to the bitter end. If they do, it will be resentment of Bush and contempt for insider politics that drives them. There will also be at least a truce with the White House before the fall election. But like the Reaganites, they're building for the future. Direct-mail fund raising could harvest a list of 250,000 donors by the end of the year, positioning them for a well-heeled 1996 campaign. By then, Buchanan's young cadre will be four years older, wiser and perhaps even tougher.