We must take out the trash and clean the barn. It’s time to take back ownership of America.”
With that overarching theme, Texas industrialist Ross Perot, the 61-year-old billionaire populist, announced to the National Press Club his willingness to run for president of the U.S. There’s only one hitch: His supporters must get him on the ballot in all 50 states before he will take the plunge. Though most experts say Perot can’t win, many think he could be a spoiler, winning from 5% to 30% of the vote in November. Because most of Perot’s vote would come from President Bush’s constituency, his independent third-party candidacy could swing the election to the Democratic nominee in a close contest. Philip
U.S. history has many examples of third parties running candidates for president: the Progressive Party, the Populist Party, the American Independent Party, founded by former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, and the Libertarian Party.
But independent candidates have never won the White House. Many are single-issue candidates, such as the “peace’ candidacy of Henry Wallace in 1948. He won more than 1 million votes, but not enough to spoil the election of Harry Truman, whose “get-tough,” anti-communist policies Wallace opposed.
Some are protest candidates, like George Wallace, whose 1968 anti-government, anti-liberal campaign garnered nearly 10 million votes, including 46 electoral votes. Former Illinois Congressman John Anderson won nearly 6 million votes in 1980.
Sometimes third-party candidates siphon off enough votes from one candidate to give the election to another. This happened in 1912 when the Republican Party was divided. Teddy Roosevelt split, forming the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, helping Democrat Woodrow Wilson to defeat Republican William Howard Taft in the race for the White House.
Usually, however, the impact of independent candidates on the outcome of elections is minimal. On the other hand, major political parties often incorporate the ideas advocated by third parties, such as the abolition of slavery, the income tax and voting rights for women.
Ross Perot may cut a wider swath. An attractive “Horatio Alger” success story, Perot was born into a sharecropper family, attended the U.S. Naval Academy and built a fortune as an independent businessman. He is a man of action, having organized a private SWAT team to rescue his employees in Iran in 1979.
He has challenged the “rot at the top” in large U.S. corporations, most dramatically exposing the ineptitude of former General Motors chairman Roger Smith.
Perot’s wealth means he will not have to spend time raising money. The anti-government, anti-career politician mood of the country is tinder waiting for a spark — a ready-made constituency.
Most importantly, Perot has core values drawn from experience, not from a focus group. He also has a mainstream message: confidence in America’s can-do spirit; a pro-growth, no-gimmicks economic policy; a take-charge approach to competitiveness to out-think, out-invent and out-invest the competition; a foreign policy based on respect for the economic and military power of the U.S.; social reforms to make people independent; and a call for broad, and fundamental political reform — including term limits, eliminating PACs, elections on Saturday and Sunday, and stopping the practice of exempting Congress from affirmative action, minimum wage and other laws that everyone else has to live with.
The Perot candidacy is a long shot, but given the temper of the times and the resources of the man, it bears watching.