(CNSNews.com) - Longtime Republican Patrick Buchanan's announcement Monday that he is leaving the GOP to seek the Reform Party presidential nomination was not unexpected, said Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson. Although Nicholson said he doesn't believe that Buchanan will siphon substantial numbers of voters from the Republican Party, other conservatives are not so sure.
"I am confident that most of the Republicans who have preferred Pat in this year's primary campaign will remain Republicans, and will back the Republican nominee," Nicholson told CNSNew.com.
However, Free Congress director Paul Weyrich warned that Buchanan could lead an exodus of conservative voters away from the GOP, and perhaps to the Reform Party.
"It is a sad day for this to have happened," Weyrich told CNSNews.com. "But, the Republicans will regret it if they do not take Pat seriously. He has a loyal following throughout the nation. That following now will not be in the Republican column if Pat wins the Reform Party nomination," he added.
Buchanan, who has been a card-carrying Republican for more than 40 years and served in the White House under Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, said that he is ending his relationship with the GOP essentially because he sees no difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.
"Our two parties have become nothing but two wings on the same bird of prey," said Buchanan, adding that the present two-party system is a "fraud."
Not all conservatives agree with Buchanan that the Democratic and Republican parties are "Xerox" copies, as he described them in a speech last summer.
"It's not really true," Amercan Conservative Union director David Keene told CNSNews.com. "It's easy talk, but the fact is if you look at the two parties it has often been said that there is the Evil Party and the Stupid Party. It may be that the Republicans are stupid, but they're not evil," said Keene. He added that conservatives largely view the Democratic Party as the "big government party" and the GOP as "a small government party."
If Buchanan does get the Reform Party nomination, how well he does in the general election against the Democratic and Republican nominees may have more to do with the economy than anything else, one political analyst told CNSNew.com.
"Third party messages ring better in tough economic times than in good economic times," said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va.
Since much of Buchanan's criticism of the Democrats and Republicans stems from their free trade policies, Farnsworth believes that if the current economic boom continues it will weaken Buchanan's position.
The current front runner for the Republican nomination, Texas governor George W. Bush sees little threat from Buchanan as a third party candidate, and says that conservatives will stay with the GOP.
"I am confident that the vast majority of conservatives will stay with the party that represents conservative ideals: the Republican Party," Bush said in a statement sent to CNSNews.com.