Saying he may run for president, the millionaire leaves the GOP as the TV commentator prepares to.
Denouncing Patrick Buchanan as a "Hitler lover," Donald Trump announced Sunday that he was resigning his Republican registration and may challenge Buchanan in his expected quest for the Reform Party presidential nomination.
"It's a very great possibility that I will run," said Trump, the real estate and casino millionaire.
Trump's announcement came on the eve of a speech today in Virginia by Buchanan, who is expected to quit the Republican Party and aim his presidential campaign for the Reform nomination.
The television commentator told potential supporters that he needs a forum to distinguish himself from the leading major party candidates, the Associated Press reported.
"Issues which I believe are of profound importance to our nation's future _ among them trade, immigration, right to life, our national sovereignty and foreign interventionism _ will not be seriously debated in 2000 between the probable establishment nominees," Buchanan wrote in a letter seeking money for his new campaign. The AP obtained a copy Sunday.
"On none of these issues, not one, is there any real disagreement between the leading Democratic and GOP candidates," Buchanan wrote.
The letter said he needs to raise $4-million to $6-million to win the nomination.
As Buchanan courted Reform Party officials at a reception in Washington, he brushed aside Trump's charges of anti-Semitism.
"To get in a slanging match with someone is not why I'm doing this," he told reporters. "We don't run negative campaigns. I'm not in this because I dislike other people."
Buchanan supporters consider Trump to be a front for the wing of the Reform Party aligned with Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, a faction that opposes a Buchanan candidacy. But Trump insisted that his own decision to quit the Republican Party was rooted in philosophical differences with the party, not political gamesmanship or an appetite for publicity.
"I really believe the Republicans are just too crazy right," he said when he disclosed that he would register with the Independence Party, the New York version of the Reform Party. He said he soon would begin meeting with Reform Party officials and make a final decision about the race by March.
Trump, who has never been a political candidate, clearly timed his announcement to target Buchanan, acidly denouncing him on the NBC News program Meet the Press as the candidate of the "really staunch right wacko vote."
"Look, he's a Hitler lover," Trump said, alluding to the recent controversy over Buchanan's view that in World War II Hitler had initially presented no serious threat to the United States.
"I guess he's an anti-Semite," Trump said, raising an accusation Buchanan has repeatedly denied in his career as a White House strategist and talk show polemicist. "He doesn't like the blacks, he doesn't like the gays," Trump continued. "It's just incredible that anybody could embrace this guy."
Buchanan responded that he would not be pulled into "the old name-calling and nonsense."
"I'm in a pretty good mood," he said, preparing to retool his chronic presidential quest.
Asked how he might fare against a millionaire opponent, Buchanan said, "I don't believe the Reform Party nomination can be bought and I don't believe the presidency can be bought."
Pat Choate, Buchanan's chief supporter in the Reform Party, added, "That sort of hate politics has no place in the Reform party." Earlier, Choate rebuffed the Trump charges on the CBS News program Face the Nation.
"What has happened here is a degree of pundit bigotry about Pat Buchanan," Choate declared, saying there was no evidence in Buchanan's writings of the charges. "So they concoct, make up positions, and then attack him on that."
But former Sen. Warren Rudman, the national co-chairman of the Republican presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., countered on the television program that Buchanan had become increasingly offensive.
"Many people are starting to believe that if he is not an anti-Semite, he certainly is doing a wonderful imitation," Rudman said.
While denouncing Buchanan, Trump sent conflicting signals about his own possible candidacy.
"It's something I'm very, very serious about," he insisted on Meet the Press. But he soon added, "I would only do this if I felt I could win the election." Historically, third-party presidential candidates fail.
At the Reform reception, party officials offered a mixed assessment of a Trump candidacy, with several doubting Trump was serious.
"We don't need name-calling," said Beverly Kidder, a party member from New Jersey. She added: "His treatment of women _ his wives, plural _ is notorious. If I were Ivana I would have gotten a better deal."
Asked about his tabloid image as a womanizer, Trump said on Meet the Press, "If I think that's going to be a great impediment, I'm not going to bother."
Buchanan's anticipated switch and how it might damage the Republican ticket was the talk of the Sunday political TV programs.
Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, said on Face the Nation that Buchanan had "discredited himself tremendously" but could do serious damage to both major parties if he picked a pro-labor running mate like James Hoffa Jr., the Teamsters chief.
Rudman said the GOP is well rid of Buchanan, whom he described as a "total hypocrite" who has little in common with Reform Party views but is after the $13-million in federal campaign money the nomination offers.