Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are continuing to slam Mitt Romney for “vulture capitalism,” a phrase that NBC reports was “newly-minted” by Perry. Actually, it turns out that the phrase isn’t really that new – and this isn’t even the first time a GOP candidate has used it to attack a primary rival.
In 1992, Pat Buchanan seized on the term in a fit of desperation, and used it to bludgeon frontrunner President George H.W. Bush in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary. The Boston Globe reported on February 11, 1992:
Patrick Buchanan accused the Bush administration yesterday of promoting “vulture capitalism,” and called for a more compassionate conservatism that would consider human needs.
With time running out to make his case to New Hampshire voters before next Tuesday’s primary, Buchanan is pressing to personalize his appeal in new television ads that show him talking directly into the camera about his views and with campaign stops like the former residence of a supporter, Steve Embry, a victim of the recession.
Buchanan’s popularity hit its peak during the New Hampshire primary. On February 16, 1992, The New York Times editorial page applauded his critique of capitalism, and argued that it led to his surge in the state:
He started his New Hampshire primary campaign intending to push President Bush back to old-time Republican religion. Then he came to New Hampshire, where businesses have failed in record numbers, unemployment in some towns has exceeded 20 percent and welfare rolls have swollen. Meet the new Patrick Buchanan.
Now the archconservative journalist campaigns by assailing “vulture capitalism.” Now the thundering apostle of free-market economics proclaims that “conservatism is about more than the constitutional right of big fishes to eat little fishes.” …
His conversion to this new-time religion may or may not be sincere. But it is paying dividends. Barely three weeks ago, President Bush seemed destined to bury Mr. Buchanan, who had never been elected to anything. Now with the election two days away, the President is scrambling to preserve a convincing margin of victory.
Unsurprisingly, conservatives dissented. On March 1, 1992, Charles Krauthammer wrote, in a masterful takedown of Buchanan, that the anti-capitalist sentiment was just one of the many symptoms of the candidate’s fascistic ideology:
Buchanan has converted to protectionism, i.e., government shutting markets in the name of the nation. And now the pretender to the throne of Ronald Reagan has gone beyond mere autarky to public denunciations of “vulture capitalism.”
This is Reaganism? Sounds more like Peronism. After a lifetime denouncing the left for letting government regulate the economy, Buchanan is a born-again economic populist, championing the shirtless ones against rapacious capitalism.
While Buchanan’s attacks on Bush aren’t identical to the current attacks on Romney, his dark portrayal of free market activity and use of left-wing rhetoric is remarkably similar. But Buchanan’s modest success didn’t continue on past the New Hampshire primary. And the current anti-capitalist rhetoric from some Republican candidates isn’t likely to get them very far either.