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We Are Living in Ross Perot’s World

July 11, 2019
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1. H. Ross Perot, RIP

Ross Perot died this week. I’m surprised this isn’t a bigger deal.

Because we are all living in Perot’s world, right now. I would argue that he has had more influence on presidential politics than anyone since Reagan.

But before we talk about that, I think it’s important to note that Perot’s presidential campaigns might be the two least interesting things about his life.

You should take five minutes and read the Dallas Morning News obit here. This is what a self-made man who turns into a serious philanthropist looks like. It’s pretty amazing.

But let’s talk about his 1992 presidential campaign.

Perot ran as an independent and got 19 percent of the vote.

19 percent.

That’s the most successful independent run since 1912.

Perot’s campaign focused on debt and deficits and trade. He was the original NAFTA critic, warning about how America’s leaders were making the worst deals.

You can draw a straight line from Perot to Trump.

Perot mainstreamed the idea of a political novice, a self-made tycoon running for president as an anti-establishment, burn-it-all-down figure.

The success of his 1992 run created the Reform party, which sputtered on for years on the fumes of federal campaign funding resulting from his big showing. You know who flirted with running for the Reform party nomination in 2000?

Donald J. Trump.

Trump’s big innovation was his decision not to run as a third-party, but to take his third-party message into the GOP and capture the party from within. It was a bold move.

Had Perot run as a Republican in 1992 he would have certainly lost, because the sitting president was a Republican. But what if Perot had skipped the ’92 cycle and run as a Republican in 1996, instead?

It’s not obvious to me that he wouldn’t have beat Bob Dole.

Whatever the case, in the stretch from 1992 to 2016, the power of the political parties continued to decline, so that by 2016 Trump was able to run what was basically a third-party campaign within the Republican primary.

Which brings us to the most interesting question about Ross Perot’s legacy.

For a long time, people have believed that the creation of a third party in America was more or less impossible, because the Electoral College forces issues into binary buckets.

Yet this hasn’t stopped people from dreaming about the creation of a third party.

But what if the two established parties are now so weak that a third-party challenge no longer requires starting a new party? What if it’s all third-parties from here on in, where candidates from outside each party’s mainstream are capable of waging a fight to simply take over the party machinery?

That’s what Donald Trump did. That’s what Bernie Sanders almost did. Maybe this is how all independent movements will go in the future.

Whatever the case, I suspect that if Ross Perot had been born 15 years later, he would’ve been president at some point.

2. Flight 93, Forever

Lawfare is doing a retrospective on Michael Anton’s “Flight 93 Election” piece and they asked Adam White to write something and he showed up with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch:


The point of Anton’s exercise was not to express an idea, but to convey an attitude. It was an early example of the now all-too-familiar trend of “performative wokeness.”Anton himself seems to recognize this in his book’s new introductory essay: “My intent in writing ‘The Flight 93 Election’ was to impress upon those who consider themselves principled conservatives the urgency of the moment,” he explains, and many “have told me that it ‘woke them up’ to the dangers that militant leftism poses to our country and our civilization.” In other words, get woke! Or, with this book, “stay woke!”