Back in the Nineties, there was a guy who was Trump before Trump was, a successful, wealthy businessman who saw the country on a bad heading and who decided to do something about it. He was Ross Perot, and while he’s mostly remembered for (probably) handing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, he actually was pretty prescient on at least one issue – debt. And he passed away yesterday. RIP, Mr. Perot. Excerpt:
A billionaire by his mid-50s after he sold a controlling interest in the data processing business he founded to General Motors for $2.5 billion, Perot’s foray into presidential politics made him one of the more colorful political figures of the 1990s.
His Texas twang, populist platform — he memorably railed against the North American Free Trade Agreement, warning of a “giant sucking sound” of American jobs to other countries if passed — and frequent TV appearances brought him wide recognition, and his 1992 campaign, in which he garnered nearly 19% of the vote and finished third behind Bill Clinton and incumbent President George H.W. Bush, remains one of the most successful third-party bids in American history.
For years, Bush blamed Perot for his defeat, saying in a 2012 HBO documentary that he believed Perot “cost me the election.” Election experts and scholarly research, however, has challenged that theory: The New York Times found Perot’s effect on the outcome of the election “appears to have been minimal,” and The Washington Post reported Clinton would have still won by a large margin if Perot hadn’t run.
I remember the 1992 election very well; the senior Bush managed to honk up his re-election effort even after his 90% approval ratings only a year earlier, at the end of the first Gulf War. He ran a perfectly execrable campaign and was up against one of the best political operators of the late Twentieth century – I think Bill Clinton was a less-than-fair President and a lousy, undisciplined person but he was and is intelligent, glib and charismatic. Perot took a lot of the blame for his loss, but I always thought that Bush 41 needed to lay the blame closer to home.
Perot had a damn good point through most of this campaign: That the nation was facing a debt problem that had potential to become an existential crisis. We can argue the rightness of his claim all day, but now, today, we are facing 22 trillion in debt instead of 4 trillion, and the Imperial government seems less worried about this than ever.
Would a Perot Presidency have set us on a saner course? Maybe. Maybe not. The Imperial City swamp is deep, cloying and filled with parasitic creatures. But he tried, he came a damned site closer to succeeding than any third party candidate before or since, and when you get right down to it, that’s not a bad legacy. Not bad at all.