Ross Perot, who died Tuesday after a five-month battle with leukemia, was a self-made billionaire and philanthropist, but he’ll go down in history as the most successful third-party presidential candidate of the last seven decades.
His 1992 run broke the Reagan coalition that had won the White House in three straight elections — and also presaged the Trump coalition of 2016.
Born to an impoverished family in rural Texas, Perot graduated from the US Naval Academy and served during the Korean War before making his fortune as founder and CEO of Electronic Data Systems.
He first entered the national spotlight with efforts on behalf of US prisoners of war in Vietnam. His 1992 runningmate, Adm. James Stockdale, was one of those POWs, held at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”
With his calls for a balanced budget and an end to the loss of US jobs to overseas competitors, Perot’s run shook the establishment. But he doomed his chances with a temporary withdrawal from the race, citing threats to sabotage his daughter’s wedding.
Pros laughed at his use of charts and talk of NAFTA’s “giant sucking sound” taking jobs to Mexico, but he won the very voters who’d later be the core Trump constituency.
It’s easy to see why: During the ’92 campaign, he groused: “Our president blames Congress, Congress blames the president, the Democrats and Republicans blame each other. Nobody steps up to the plate and accepts responsibility for anything.”
Ross Perot the outsider still has a point. Rest in peace.
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