Saturday, July 13, 2019

Hercule Perot

in UW-Milwaukee Post, April 27, 1992
I had something else planned for this week's Sucking Soundback Saturday post; but with the passing this week of H. Ross Perot, it can wait.
in Racine Journal Times,  May 26, 1992
Diminutive in stature, billionaire Texan Perot burst upon the political scene in 1992 as a larger-than-life character. Both major party presidential nominations were pretty well decided (although Jerry Brown hadn't quite surrendered to Bill Clinton on the Democratic side) when Perot announced his intention to mount an independent campaign for the general election.

He shot to the top of national polls — in part because Republicans were associated with one set of interests and Democrats were associated with another, but potential voters could project onto Perot whatever priorities appealed to them.
in UW-M Post, September 28, 1992
Then in July, he abruptly pulled out of the race, only to change his mind again in October.

in UW-M Post, October 12, 1992
The Perot campaign concentrated primarily on buying half-hour blocks of television prime time for him to display graphs and charts illustrating his signature issues against the national debt and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He and his running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, had qualified to appear in the presidential debates; he also held a few rallies.
in UW-M Post, October 26, 1992
Come November, Perot failed to carry any states, but he did come in second in Utah and Maine. Most of his voters were male, overwhelmingly white, and just over half self-identified as moderates. With nearly 19% of the popular vote, Perot was guaranteed to be a factor in 1996, and some Republicans blame him for denying Bush 41 a second term.
in UW-M Post, November 8, 1993
He was no ally of the Democrats, however, and emerged as a primary spokesman against the Clinton administration (until he was overshadowed by Newt Gingrich). He debated NAFTA with Al Gore on the Larry King Show, on which he famously declared, "Now, when you've got a seven-to-one wage differential between the United States and Mexico, you will hear the giant sucking sound!"
in Gaze Magazine (Mpls.), January 7, 1994
Perot founded his Reform Party in 1995 and bore its standard in the 1996 election. He won only 8% of the vote the second time around, but that was still enough to guarantee the Reform Party federal matching funds next time around. He opened his party's nomination to others in 2000 (Donald Trump was one of the candidates who put his name forward) and ended up forsaking the Reform Party and endorsing George W. Bush. Pat Buchanan would be the party's presidential nominee that year and go all America First as he plunged it into obscurity, while still managing to avenge Bush 41 by denying Al Gore Florida's electoral votes.
in UW-M Post, March 28, 1996
Given the hyperpartisanship that has been the hallmark of the 21st Century, I often wonder how different the political landscape would be today if Perot's Reform Party had not gone off the rails into ugly nativism, but had instead continued as a centrist alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. Imagine how things might be different if there were a Reform Party to welcome the likes of John McCain, Jeff Flake, Joe Manchin, and Mikie Sherrill.

But the truth is that Perot's forceful opposition to NAFTA opened his party's doors to the xenophobes who have lately been taking over the Republican party under Trump. Recent experience has shown that hard-core extremists outshout and outlast moderates and pragmatists, and if you don't think so, explain to me how Susan Collins is a leader rather than a follower.

The Reform Party certainly was not immune. If it were still around today, we might well have the Reform Party for Know-Nothings, the Republican Party for Corporate Theocrats, and the Democratic Party for Urban Sophisticates.

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