How Ross Perot Helped Elect Bill Clinton

How Ross Perot Helped Elect Bill Clinton

Ross Perot, the colorful Texas computer entrepreneur, has died after a battle with leukemia at the age of 89. Perot was an American original who could only have come out of Texas, with a lot of accomplishments and good qualities. Unfortunately, he will best be remembered for the fact that he helped to elect Bill Clinton as president in 1992.

The Wikipedia paragraph of the Perot 1992 campaign for president is a good summary of what happened:

“The public’s concern about the federal budget deficit and fears of professional politicians allowed the independent candidacy of billionaire Texan Ross Perot to explode on the scene in dramatic fashion—at one point Perot was leading the major party candidates in the polls.[5]Perot crusaded against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and internal and external national debt, tapping into voters’ potential fear of the deficit. His volunteers succeeded in collecting enough signatures to get his name on the ballot in all 50 states. In June, Perot led the national public opinion polls with support from 39% of the voters (versus 31% for Bush and 25% for Clinton). Perot severely damaged his credibility by dropping out of the presidential contest in July and remaining out of the race for several weeks before re-entering. He compounded this damage by eventually claiming, without evidence, that his withdrawal was due to Republican operatives attempting to disrupt his daughter’s wedding;”

In the end, Perot got 19 percent of the popular vote, though he did not win any states. But, after all, in the 1990s the idea of a flamboyant billionaire with reservations about NAFTA winning the presidency seemed to be beyond the realm of possibility. Perot was an early version of Donald Trump, in a way, but with a Texas twang and a tendency for folksy sayings.

Unfortunately, an analysis of Perot voters suggests that he pulled far more votes from President George H. W. Bush than he did Bill Clinton. Indeed, it can be safely argued that had Perot stayed out of the race, Bush 41 might have pulled out a second term.

To be sure, the elder Bush was partly the author of his own troubles. He had broken his no new taxes pledge and started the campaign in the midst of a recession, which lifted too late in the campaign cycle to matter. Bush had depended on the popular high that he had enjoyed after the allied victory in the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein had been sent packing from Kuwait after a ground campaign that lasted less than a week.

Still, Ross Perot had to bear the burden of having caused a Bill Clinton presidency and all that implies. Clinton did enjoy a good economy and even a budget surplus after the Gingrich Revolution brought adult supervision to his administration. His presidency was one of relative peace, especially compared to what followed.

A number of mistakes that Clinton made, particularly not taking out Osama bin Laden when he had the chance, led directly to 9/11 and all that happened later. Clinton’s presidency was an Indian summer that preceded the grim winter that followed.

If Bush had won a second term, one cannot imagine that a president known for his foreign policy acumen would have made the mistakes Clinton made that led to 9/.11. The economic good times of the 1990s would have happened anyway. To be sure, the Gingrich Revolution would likely have not happened and Bush would still have had to deal with a Democratic-controlled Congress.

On the other hand, the world would have been spared some of the sordid scandals that Bill Clinton inflicted on the country. Imagine a world that had not heard of Paula Jones, Kathleen Whiley, and all the rest of Clinton’s victims. Hillary Clinton would have gone back to well-deserved obscurity and would not have had a political career.

Yes, Ross Perot has a lot to answer for as he faces the final judgment. His ego and his hatred of the Bush family caused a lot of damage.

On the plus side, Perot was a kind of sixties version of Bill Gates, starting a business that pioneered the idea of outsourced IT management, He was a champion of Vietnam vets, especially POWs. During the Iranian Revolution, he organized a private commando raid that freed two of his employees from imprisonment in that country.

Perot was a combination of a visionary and aggravating egotist. The world is a lot less interesting now that he is no longer in it.


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