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Ross Perot helped set the stage for Donald Trump in one crucial way

Ross Perot helped set the stage for Donald Trump in one crucial way
Ross Perot [Photo: Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images]

Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who in 1992 was the most successful third-party candidate for president since Theodore Roosevelt, died Tuesday at 89.

Perot was the butt of countless jokes on ’90s late-night TV, but his populist campaign against Washington waste and corruption struck a chord with many voters as he competed with George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton for the White House. He famously predicted the NAFTA trade agreement would cause a “giant sucking sound” as jobs left the country for Mexico. While he’s often credited with helping deliver the presidency to Clinton after 12 years of Republican rule under Bush and Ronald Reagan, The New York Times reports his candidacy didn’t appeal to Republicans alone.

His attack on Washington corruption and free trade policies arguably paved the way for President Trump’s candidacy, although there are obviously many differences between the two candidates: Trump ran from within the Republican party rather than as a third-party candidate, and he replaced Perot’s folksy Texas wisdom with his harsher New York tone and insults. He also made offensive comments about everyone from Mexican immigrants to political rivals and critics like John McCain and Elizabeth Warren.

But Perot did prove that the concept of an outsider candidate had, and still has, mainstream appeal among American voters. He won 19% of the popular vote—the most successful third-party share since Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose Party” run in 1912.

And politics has never quite looked the same since.

Perot, who made his fortune by founding the early back-office tech provider Electronic Data Systems and never held political office, was among the first of the wealthy entrepreneurs turned politicians who have since become increasingly familiar, from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to financier Tom Steyer, who recently announced he’s seeking the Democratic nomination for 2020.

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