Ross Perot has passed away. Perot was a hugely successful businessman, but will be remembered, of course, mainly for his presidential campaign, as a third party candidate in 1992.
It was a remarkable run. At times, if I recall correctly, polling placed Perot in the same tier as his opponents, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
In the end, Perot captured 19 percent of the vote. That’s truly exceptional for a third party candidate. Jim Geraghty notes that no one had achieved a bigger share of the vote as a third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. TR was a popular former president.
Whatever one thought of Perot at the time, he lit up the campaign. He was a “force of nature” candidate in the same way Donald Trump is.
What stood out for me about Perot was his raging moderation. Unlike most angry candidates running a populist campaign, Perot was a pragmatist, not an ideologue, and basically a centrist — more so, anyway than his two opponents (which is why Team Bush was wrong, I think, to claim that Perot cost Bush the election; studies have shown that Perot took about as many votes away from Clinton as he did from Bush).
Populists generally want to blow up the the car. Perot wanted to get under the hood and fix it, as he liked to say.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric is of the “blow it up” variety, but at root he’s not that different from Perot. Trump is governing mainly as a conservative, but does not adhere strictly to conservative dogma.
Trump doesn’t seem to care about deficits or debt (which Perot did). Like Perot, he’s balked at free trade deals. He favors a massive public works program to rebuild America’s infrastructure. He very much wants an immigration deal and to get it, he’s willing to grant amnesty to at least some illegal immigrants.
Trump is a raging pragmatist.
Trump’s political genius, or one aspect of it, was his realization that he could capture the Republican presidential nomination and, eventually, the Republican Party. I wonder how Perot would have fared if he had tried to do the same.
I suspect a Perot challenge to President Bush for the 1992 nomination would have had considerably more success than Pat Buchanan’s. Alternatively, Perot, had he stayed out of the 1992 race, might well have been able to make a strong run for the Republican nomination in 1996.
But Perot, I think, was temperamentally more comfortable running on his own. The same may be true of Trump. However, he realized that the GOP afforded him his most likely, and maybe only, road to the White House, and he was willing to bend on some issues in order to take that road.
Perot wasn’t one to bend at all.