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Pat Buchanan, before he became rich and famous as a TV pundit, grew up in this town as a tough Irish kid who worked off his energies fighting cops and rival gangs.

Hasn't changed much at 56.

His bellicose level still high, Buchanan is the political equivalent of a saloon brawler. Every four years there's a melee and he leaps in the middle, fists flying.

But Republicans cannot be pleased that the hell-raising, tart-tongued Buchanan has entered their 1996 sweepstakes that until now was a polite debating society. They cannot forget -- and some may never forgive -- that four years ago Buchanan stalked, taunted and humiliated George Bush and helped destroy his presidency.

If I were Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., I'd wear the Republican front-runner's crown uneasily. Like a bull who reacts to a red flag, Pat needs an authority figure to ignite his spoiler's style.

Buchanan thrives on animosity. Indeed, his campaign was less than 60 seconds old when it erupted into bedlam, bodies flying.

He had just begun his Manchester, N.H., presidential announcement when four protesters rushed the mike with signs, "Buchanan is David Duke Without a Sheet." They screamed, "Buchanan is a racist!"

For Buchanan, who's withstood more darting epithets from Michael Kinsley on CNN, the rhubarb guaranteed 30 network seconds.

"Now you know what we're fighting against," he told 175 fans.

His interlopers claimed to be members of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha. Although Buchanan denies anti-Semitism,, he's questioned the number of Nazi extermination victims and called the U.S. Capitol "Israeli-occupied territory."

When Buchanan throws his hat in the ring, its like flicking a Bic in a gas tank.

If Bush saw TV footage of Buchanan's opening brawl, he must have rolled his eyes, remembering Buchanan gnawing at his leg like a pit bull in '92.

Wasn't enough that Buchanan called him "King George" or hammered his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge or embarrassed him with 37 percent in New Hampshire.

Or ran a ghastly TV ad showing gay black men in chains, intimating Bush was soft on pornography.

Republicans still powerful in the party tried to shush Buchanan in '92. Newt Gingrich warned he was "close to David Duke," the Louisiana Kluxer.

Jack Kemp said Buchanan "wants another Know Nothing Party." Bill Bennett charged Pat "flirted with fascism."

He wouldn't quit. Running on a shoestring and venom, Buchanan insisted, "Bush should stand down, he's becoming the Republican Jimmy Carter."

Bush's guys mocked Buchanan's "America First" sloganeering by showing him driving a Mercedes-Benz.

Then came the Houston convention, a disaster led by Buchanan's hate-filled screed for a "religious war." Pat insulted everyone but the Astrodome organist. Bush never recovered from the orgy of intolerance.

So why is Pat Buchanan back? Without Bush to rant against, he's unlikely to rise above single digits.

He can't gripe about the GOP field, most of it to the right of Genghis Khan. Clearly Buchanan loves campaigning grit and glory.

Nothing phony about his right-wing passion.

Notoriety keeps aflame his media image that pays $800,000 a year ($447,000 from "Crossfire").

Never mind that his '96 campaign pitch sounds shopworn, bombast recycled about a "cultural war" to "put our country first again."

Sure, Buchanan plays the populist chord, storming against NAFTA, GATT and Mexican bailout. That's Ross Perot territory, though. Buchanan would guard our borders with the National Guard and protect our young from lewd music.

"We were first to say no to tax hikes, no to quotas," Buchanan bragged. "Now every Republican says no to tax hikes, affirmative action and racial quotas."

Somehow, when Buchanan grabs credit for Republicans sweeping Congress, I doubt if Newt Gingrich applauds.

Maybe Buchanan's tirades against immigrants, gays, feminists, Wall Street and abortion constitutes his 1996 shtick -- The Last Angry White Male.

But if Republicans invite Buchanan to attack the rest of America in their '96 prime-time convention, you'll know this is a party with a death wish.

Above all, club-fighter Pat needs an enemy, a target inside the Republican party he can slam as an establishment patsy.

If I were Bob Dole, I'd look out for rabbit punches, groin kicks and eye gouges.

He could ask George Bush, who still bears Buchanan's knuckle marks.

Pat comes to hurt you.

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