Ross Perot, Presidential Spoiler, Dead at 89

The independent who upended the 1992 Presidential race has passed.

The always-interesting and often infuriating billionaire who twice ran for President as an independent is gone.

WaPo/AP (“Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot dies aged 89“):

H. Ross Perot (pur-OH’), the colorful, self-made Texas billionaire who twice ran for president, has died.

Family spokesman James Fuller says Perot died early Tuesday. He was 89.

Perot rose from Depression-era poverty to become one of the nation’s richest men as the founder of computer services giant Electronic Data Systems Corp.

In 1992, Perot jumped into the presidential campaign as an independent candidate, challenging President George H.W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton.

Perot drew nearly 19% of the vote, the biggest percentage for a third-party hopeful in 80 years. Republicans blamed him for Bush’s defeat.

He had founded EDS in 1962 and sold control of it to General Motors for $2.5 billion in 1984. He later founded another company, Perot Systems.

CNBC (“Billionaire and former presidential candidate Ross Perot is dead at 89“):

Billionaire philanthropist and Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot is dead at 89, CNBC has confirmed.

Perot, who ran for president twice in 1992 and 1996, died after a five-month battle with leukemia, said James Fuller, a representative for the Perot family.

“In business and in life, Ross was a man of integrity and action. A true American patriot and a man of rare vision, principle and deep compassion, he touched the lives of countless people through his unwavering support of the military and veterans and through his charitable endeavors,” Fuller said in a statement.

Dallas Morning News columnist Cheryl Hall shares a hagiography (“Ross Perot, self-made billionaire, patriot and philanthropist, dies at 89“). She describes his meteoric rise as “The Bill Gates of the 1960s.”

His entry into the 1992 Presidential race was fascinating, as he was so unconventional. In many ways, he was the Donald Trump of the day—rich, outlandish, not much caring what anyone thought—but he was also deeply moralistic and I think a genuine patriot.

Republicans, myself included, long believed that Perot handed the election to Bill Clinton. While the exit polls demonstrated that he drew roughly evenly from both Clinton and President George H.W. Bush, I don’t think Clinton would have been viable had Perot not plowed the field ahead of him.

Perot actually led the field for a brief period and was ahead of Clinton for longer. When he suddenly dropped out of the race with bizarre accusations that the Bush family was somehow going to damage his daughter’s wedding—and saying that he didn’t need to run anymore, anyway, because Clinton would be a good President, the deal was sealed.

Perot’s re-entry into the race was weird and muddied the waters further.

Bush was damaged with Republicans because of his reneging on his “Read my lips: No new taxes!” pledge and was further hurt by a recession and the 11th-hour revelations of the Iran-Contra investigation. But, for all of Clinton’s considerable talents, I don’t think the general public would have been able to stomach voting a draft-dodger and serial adulterer over a World War II hero who had just prosecuted a successful war in the Middle East were it not for Perot’s entry. He gave people dissatisfied with Bush an alternative and, when he dropped out, many didn’t return to the Bush camp.

Dana Carvey’s Perot impressions throughout the cycle were among the highlights of the “Saturday Night Live” of that era.

And the Perot-Al Gore debates on NAFTA were something to behold as well.

FILED UNDER: Obituaries, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Perot to Tea Party to Trump, the electoral path of the American dummy.

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  2. Kylopod says:

    Republicans, myself included, long believed that Perot handed the election to Bill Clinton. While the exit polls demonstrated that he drew roughly evenly from both Clinton and President George H.W. Bush, I don’t think Clinton would have been viable had Perot not plowed the field ahead of him.

    It wasn’t just the exit polls; it was also the fact that (1) Clinton was leading the polls with a substantial majority during the period in which Perot dropped out (2) Bush’s popularity was tanking, as he faced the effects of a recession that struck on his watch, something no incumbent president running for reelection has ever survived (3) And of course, Republicans had been in the White House for 12 years, the longest time for a single party since the FDR-Truman period; it is not unreasonable to think there was hunger for change.

    In short, you are clutching onto an article of faith not supported by one shred of evidence, and contradicted by mountains of evidence.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    Perot epitomizes the “we need to elect a businessman” mentality that refuses to die, despite the fact that business provides little background for the types of issues encountered in government. Perot epitomized this when he said that if the House and Senate wouldn’t agree to a deal he would “lock them in a room until they reached an agreement.” I’m sure he used this tactic in his business, where he could fire anyone that objected. But did he really think that the likes of Tip O’Neil, Jim Wright or Tom Foley would even show up for such shenanigans?

    And he is also an example of the “everyone is an idiot but me and my friends” school of “getting things done” that would later evolve into the Tea Party. He formed the Reform Party, where the people had all the power, not the party officials, and that would ensure amazing success. It ended up with over $10M in its campaign coffers, a substantial sum at the time. The professionals saw this jackpot, got their own stooge nominated, and proceeded to fleece every last nickel from the treasury. The Reform Party dragged on a bit longer but it was essentially dead after that.

    Even as a relatively young guy I was astounded at just how seemingly intelligent people fell for his Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “Let’s Put On A Show!” solution to every problem. It presaged the Tea Party morons and the rise of Trump.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod:

    In short, you are clutching onto an article of faith not supported by one shred of evidence, and contradicted by mountains of evidence.

    Honestly, I’m clinging to my real-time perception of things in the face of a lack of a counterfactual. There’s evidence for what the exit polls say about Perot voters. There’s no evidence for what those who supported Perot early in the race wound up doing on Election Day.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    This from the June 11, 1992 edition of the NYT:

    THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: On the Trail; POLL GIVES PEROT A CLEAR LEAD

    In a three-way general election matchup, Ross Perot has moved to a clear lead over both President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton in the latest Gallup Poll.

    In the telephone poll of 815 registered voters nationwide, conducted June 4 to 8, Mr. Perot was supported by 39 percent, Mr. Bush by 31 percent, and Mr. Clinton by 25 percent. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

    In a previous Gallup matchup in late May, Mr. Bush and Mr. Perot were tied at 35 percent each, while Mr. Clinton was supported by 25 percent.

    No previous independent or third party candidate has ever placed second, much less first, in nearly six decades of Gallup’s nationwide polling for President.

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  6. Bill says:

    Two amusing things I recall from the 1992 race

    1 A political cartoon in the National Review. The White House, through a window President Bush is talking= “Barb, this Perot thing has gone too far.”

    Outside the WH a protester carrying a vote for Perot sign. Who was it- Millie, the Bush’s pet dog.

    2- A song parody to the music Bye Bye Love

    Bye Bye George
    Hello Ross Perot
    It is time for you to go
    I think I’m gonna cry

    You’re in the White House
    I’m on the street
    But in November
    You will get beat

    Later on there was something about Bush’s promises being emptier than Dan Quayle’s brain.

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  7. Hal_10000 says:

    Perot did a lot of good things for veterans, notably taking care of John McCain’s first wife when she was in a horrible card accident while he was a POW. And I do think his impact on American politics was positive. I don’t think there’s any way we get a balanced budget without him hammering the issues and scaring the bejeezus out of both parties.

    I’m glad he was not elected President; I don’t think all his screws were 100% tightened down. But I think his life, as a whole, was a good one. RIP.

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  8. meh says:

    @michael reynolds: The man just died and by all accounts he lived a good life and was a good human being. To paraphrase the king Adrock, “you have the rest of your life to be an asshole – could you please take one day off?”

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  9. Kylopod says:

    @Hal_10000: Yeah, I pretty much agree. I think most of these Perot/Trump comparisons are based on superficial things, mainly the fact that he was a buffoonish billionaire who believed in simple solutions. But his basic policy agenda was a good one (his ideas on balancing the budget were not that different from Clinton’s, though he went on to become a rabid Clinton hater–he once compared Clinton to Hitler–and never gave him one iota of credit for achieving what he himself had run on). He was far more in the center than the far right; he supported abortion rights, for one thing, and he was not rigidly opposed to raising taxes. While he had a few clueless old white guy moments (he once addressed a black audience as “you people”), his campaign was not in any fundamental way based on racial resentment, let alone white supremacy. Therefore, despite a few minor similarities, I don’t see him as much of a Trump precursor.

    He was also rather likable on a personal level. I always thought he should be played in a movie by Joe Pesci. He was actually once played by Richard Crenna (in On Wings of Eagles, a 1986 TV miniseries about the rescue of hostages in Iran, his actual role in having been much exaggerated). I watched the film not long after his 1992 campaign, and after a year of seeing the short, big-eared, squeaky-voiced twerp, I had to laugh as soon as tall, ruggedly handsome Crenna appeared on screen and said “My name is H. Ross Perot.” It reminded me heavily of the end of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure with the movie-in-the-movie where Pee Wee is played by James Brolin as a tough Indiana Jones type.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    @meh:
    Oh screw you.

    A) I didn’t attack Perot, I attacked idiot voters.

    B) Spare me the reverence for the dead. It’s nothing but superstition. When Saddam died were we supposed to confine our remarks to admiration of his mustache? What’s bizarre is that if we’re meant to be sparing Perot’s feelings I guess we shouldn’t have criticized him while he was alive and could hear us. And by the way? Ditto for his family and friends who would have been equally upset by criticism when he was alive. It is absurd to assume survivors would be more upset by criticism at a point where they no longer have to be worried about Perot’s hurt feelings. Right?

    C) Before you decide to rely on superstitious custom as an excuse to cheap shot me, why don’t you take a few seconds to actually ask yourself why you’re bothered?

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  11. Mister Bluster says:

    We never become really and genuinely our entire and honest selves until we are dead — and not then until we have been dead years and years. People ought to start dead and then they would be honest so much earlier.
    M. Twain

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  12. gVOR08 says:

    I voted in that election (Clinton, of course, why would you ask?) and several before it. First there was Admiral Stockdale as veep. The Admiral deserved a respected retirement, not that. As James notes, Perot was doing well in June, then he withdrew in July with no credible explanation and weird stories of the Bush campaign or the CIA or somebody using his daughter to blackmail him and claims he didn’t want to throw it into the House. So when he restarted his campaign with a month to go before the election and his organization in shambles he pretty well reduced himself to comic relief. I don’t recall any explanation of how blackmail or the House were no longer concerns.

    A 1999 study in the American Journal of Political Science estimated that Perot’s candidacy hurt the Clinton campaign, reducing “Clinton’s margin of victory over Bush by seven percentage points.”- WIKI

    @Kylopod: says recession and three terms of R incumbency account for Clinton’s win. The various “fundamentals models’ would agree. That, and he fought his war too early.

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  13. meh says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s a fair question as to why I’m bothered, and the answer is related to your first point: yes, you attacked “idiot” voters. That’s what you do because of your self regard and belief in your own superiority, and that has gotten tiresome. The post was a respectful sort of obituary by James, but you managed – yet again – to try and hijack the topic toward an unrelated issue (i.e. how you are better, both morally and intellectually, than the people who voted for Trump). Is that what your goal is here at OTB? I know this is unkind, but you’ve become “that guy” who makes people eliminate comments sections. At a minimum could you please at least try to stay on topic?

    As for my “superstitions”, well I suppose reading minds is another one of your talents. I’ve never posted here before and my response to you made no mention of my beliefs so I wonder if you’d consider the logic of your reply to mine.

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  14. michael reynolds says:

    @meh:

    you managed – yet again – to try and hijack the topic toward an unrelated issue (i.e. how you are better, both morally and intellectually, than the people who voted for Trump).

    This is a politics blog, we discuss politics. That’s what I did. I drew a connection between a group of voters I think are related. If you don’t like my contempt for Trump voters, too bad, again: this is a politics blog where we discuss politics, and that’s a legitimate political issue. Right?

    I didn’t pick a fight with you, you took a shot at me. You decided to call me an asshole, first pretending that you had some moral objection to badmouthing the dead, then you reveal that you just don’t like my politics. Well, for the third time, this is a politics blog and yes Trump voters are fcking morons, and yeah I am both morally and intellectually superior to them.

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  15. Tyrell says:

    Ross Perot seemed to have the politician – entertainer combination down perfect. Agree or disagree with him, it was never a dull or predictable time when he had a microphone.
    His rescue mission to Iran was amazing. He had the image of a person who cut through the typical chain of command and got things done. This was when people considered the Carter administration the exact opposite of that.
    Many people got excited and their hopes up when he started the push of a POW Vietnam rescue mission. I was disappointed when it did not pan out.

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  16. meh says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Several things: first, I actually don’t dislike your politics. I do take issue with your self described contempt for Trump voters (a group of which I am decidedly not part) and your now-explicit belief that you are their superior as a human being. That seems like a rough way to live but you do you.

    But these things are unrelated to why I initially chimed in and took that shot at you.

    My beef isn’t with your beliefs or even with your avowed arrogance so much as it is with the fact that no matter the subject matter of a post, your response is always that the world is ending because of Trump and the republicans. Too often you go from zero to Trump bashing instantly regardless of the topic at hand, and it this case you did so in James’ innocuous obituary for a man who by all accounts lived a life in full – hence the second half of that quotation, “could you please take one day off?”

    We both have better things to do than continue this, so I’ll post this comment, read your reply if you write one, and leave you alone.

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  17. michael reynolds says:

    WaPo today:

    Perot’s pitch wasn’t quite the same as the tea party’s, nor was the tea party’s platform precisely like Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again.” But each drew upon similar populist energies, and it’s hard to imagine the tea party — or a Trump presidency — without the influence of Perot, who died Tuesday at 89.

    (My italics)

    Me, 3 days ago:

    Perot to Tea Party to Trump, the electoral path of the American dummy.

    Perot is dead. He matters, to the extent that he does, as a political moment. When political matters are relevant to Trump, I talk about Trump. When they aren’t, I don’t – witness recent conversations on reparations and minimum wage. And I frequently chide Democrats – on impeachment, on attacks on free speech, on a lack of an immigration plan.

    As for my alleged arrogance, partly true, but only partly. It is certainly true that I have a high opinion of my general cleverness, but any claims I make to moral superiority start from my oft-confessed years as an actual criminal. I’m not surprised that I’m smart, but I have been simply astonished by the moral collapse of people who held themselves to a higher standard. I honestly thought I was the bad boy and I discover instead that the world is simply filled with people who are actually worse than me. If you think that made me happy, no, it scared me.

    And yes, the problem is Trump voters. I’ve said that from Day 1 and now more and more people are waking up to the fact that the problems we have go much deeper than one psychopath. We’ve gone from blame Trump to also blaming McConnell. We’re edging toward blaming Republicans and specifically the 46%. IOW a lot of people are now getting to where I was three years ago. Chalk that up as arrogance, if you like, but my diagnosis was correct. And it’s correct that Perot-Tea Party-Trump are linked. And the problem at its heart is, to quote a regular commenter here, stupid people with shitty values.

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  18. Kylopod says:

    @michael reynolds: The factor you neglect to mention that really distinguishes the two is race. Yes, he did once address a black audience as “you people,” and yes most of his support came from white people. But he did not call Mexicans rapists, or call for a shutdown of Muslims entering the US, or get in bed with white nationalists. And there’s certainly no evidence he had a following among WNs either.

    Ron Paul’s candidacy in 2008 in many ways anticipated both the Tea Party and the Trump presidency. While his racism was more subtle than Trump’s, he did have a history of it (the Ron Paul newsletters) and he did have a real, well-documented following among the Stormfront crowd. There was nothing like that in the Perot movement–he wasn’t getting endorsed by David Duke, let alone refusing to disavow said endorsement–and so I think your comparison rather ignores the elephant in the room.

    Yes, there are some parallels in the dumb populism, the billionaire businessman with the simple solutions. In a broad way, you could view his candidacy as one step in the process that would ultimately lead to Trump. But if so, it was one of many, many steps, and not necessarily the most important one. It was a process that goes all the way back to the ’60s with Barry Goldwater and George Wallace and the Southern Strategy of Nixon, and continues from there to Reagan’s “states’ rights” at the town of the Klan lynching, GHWB’s Willie Horton, GWB at Bob Jones, Newt Gingrich, and finally, the total descent of the GOP into mass racial hysteria under Obama. Perot may have been a piece in this process, but if so, he was a small one, and there really is only a minimal overlap in either their agenda or the kinds of people they attracted.

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