If you were around for the presidential election of 1992, you can remember the skinny little Texan with a large nose and bigger ears. Although Ross Perot, who died this week at age 89, struck an almost comical appearance, his arrival as an independent agitator taught Americans that if they weren’t so happy with the way things were going in Washington, D.C., there were ways to make changes.
One of those was to throw your support and vote behind a candidate like Perot. He described politicians in Washington, D.C., in unvarnished, unapologetic and unflattering terms.
Try this quote on for size. Perot said the nation’s capital “has become a town with sound bites, shell games, handlers, media stuntmen who posture, create images, talk, shoot off Roman candles, but don’t ever accomplish anything. We need deeds, not words, in this city.”
Perot spoke those words 27 years ago, but they apply well to today’s scene, and remind us of the appeal candidate Donald Trump had among voters who are weary of do-nothing politicians and the bloated, ineffective nature of the federal government.
Considering the egos that motivate men like Perot and Trump, we can imagine they both would resent any kind of comparison, but how can you not compare?
Seattle Times columnist Jon Talton observed this week that both Perot and Trump campaigned as outsiders, brash insurgents and “populists,” promising to restore America to a supposedly better past.
“Importantly, both men convinced large numbers of Americans that it was better to have a successful business executive to solve the nation’s problems. Their pitch was that experience in the law, statecraft, diplomacy and government were irrelevant to seeking the highest office in the land — indeed such qualifications were corrupting,” Talton wrote.
Trump would deny that Perot’s style in any way influenced his own approach to politics. In fact, Trump probably would say he likes winners, not losers. Perot garnered just 19 percent of the popular vote. That was enough to erode support for incumbent President George H.W. Bush’s re-election bid and propel Bill Clinton into the White House.
Perhaps the most interesting similarity between Perot and Trump is how they leveraged their business backgrounds in their campaigns. Perot hauled out hundreds of charts and graphs to tell voters why their nation was going to pot, while Trump relied on his celebrity and bluster.
By Election Day, too many Americans regarded Perot as a crank and gadfly, hardly presidential material. Trump convinced enough Americans that the time was right to elect a business executive. The current strong national economy seems to signal the voters got it right.
Trump’s chances for re-election appear good, especially if the 20 or so Democrat candidates form a circular firing squad.