• U.S.


5 minute read
Richard Stengel

THE TWO POLES OF SUPPORT holding up Pat Buchanan are polar opposites. Bay, sister, spitfire campaign chairman, is the prototype of the postfeminist woman. She works round the clock, rears three kids on her own, yet insists that she’s a traditionalist. Shelley, wife, constant campaign companion, is an unrepentant prefeminist. She defines herself almost exclusively through her husband and prefers it that way. For a premodern man like Pat, independence may be tolerable in a sister but never in a spouse.

As campaign chairman, the tall and taut Bay is mostly behind the scenes, plotting strategy, raising money, orchestrating commercials. Pat calls her every 30 minutes to check in. Bay is the personification of his barking inner voice, goading him to run for President, something she has been doing for a decade. Whereas Bay talks nonstop in her brother’s rat-a-tat style, Shelley is painfully reticent. Her only public role is to smile serenely, sit behind the candidate onstage and form the visual punch line to one of his biggest applause getters: “I want to introduce the lady I intend to nominate to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, and she won’t be in charge of health care.” Her private role seems to be the health and care of the candidate. When Pat toiled at the Reagan White House, recalls Linda Chavez, who worked alongside him, “Shelley would mark up newspapers for him, load his briefcase, drop him off and pick him up.” Her job description is the same today.

In a sense, the two women correspond to the yin and yang of Buchanan’s own personality. The slash-and-burn, take-no-prisoners campaign chairman reflects Pat’s public persona, while the gracious lady of the house reflects the private Pat, whom his former colleague Michael Kinsley once described as “gentle” and almost everyone else considers amiable.

Some have noted with irony that the candidate who wrote that the “Momma bird builds the nest” and that women are “less equipped psychologically” to succeed in the workplace seems to be dominated by two females. But those observers miss the point, for to the candidate, the issue is not gender but loyalty. From both Bay and Shelley, he receives unquestioned fidelity. Buchanan has referred to his sister as “my Bobby Kennedy.” Says Chavez: “This isn’t a job to Bay. This is family.” For Shelley, it’s not a job; it’s her life.

Loyalty in the Washington home of the Buchanan clan was next to godliness. Bay, whose given name is Angela, the younger daughter in a family of seven boys and two girls, gets her nickname from the mispronunciation of her older brothers: she was the “bay-bay.” Within the family, Bay was more the rebel than Pat. After getting her master’s degree in mathematics and working on Nixon’s re-election committee, she was so disillusioned by Watergate that she upped and moved to Australia. When she converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and married a Mormon lawyer in 1982, her devoutly Roman Catholic father refused to attend the wedding–as did his dutiful third son Patrick. Her divorce was equally sacrilegious.

After working for Ronald Reagan in his 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns, Bay at 32 became the youngest U.S. Treasurer in history, in 1981. She later set up shop as a political consultant in California and became a candidate herself in 1990, running unsuccessfully in the G.O.P. primary for California state treasurer.

Bay, whom her brother calls “General MacArthur,” is not shy about taking credit for battlefield victories. “I had a conservative–Gramm–in the race I had to take out first,” she says, making the same karate-chop gestures as her brother. “Then I had to strip Forbes of any pro-life and Perot voters.”

But it is the former Shelley Scarney who has logged more time on campaigns than either her husband or her sister-in-law. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in political science, the only child of a Detroit ophthalmologist became a secretary to Vice President Nixon and traveled with his unsuccessful 1960 presidential campaign. One of her many jobs: at airports, she would call Washington, take down the day’s news clippings in shorthand, then type them up on the plane on a portable manual typewriter. She also traveled with Nixon’s victorious 1968 campaign. Buchanan and his future wife met in New York City in 1967 when both worked at Nixon’s law firm. In 1969 she became the presidential gatekeeper (“Now the place had a touch of class,” recalls Pat). They were married in 1971 with President Nixon in attendance. They have no children.

Shelley’s Nixonian model was Pat, not Dick. For all her campaign experience, she seems to crave a privacy that is eluding her. Asked what type of First Lady she would be, she is hesitant, wary. “I would like to go back–I would not mind going back,” she says in her soft voice. “I would be in more of a traditional role, but we would do some unique things.” Like what? “I’d rather not describe them,” she says, her voice trailing off, revealing as little as possible.

–Reported by Nina Burleigh with Buchanan, and Mark Thompson/Washington

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