It is a rare case in US history that a third-party presidential candidate received a large share of public votes. On July 9, 2019, the story of one such man, Ross Perot, ended as he died from leukemia at the age of 89 (McFadden, 2019). Ross Perot is famous for his powerful empire in computer services, outstanding paramilitary missions in Vietnam and Iraq, and his populist slogans during the presidential elections in 1992 and 1996. The present paper aims at exploring Perot’s impact on American politics. The purpose is achieved by providing personal background about Ross Perot, exploring the issues connected with his presidential campaign in 1992, and explaining the results of the elections and their impact on American Politics.
Henry Ross Perot was an extraordinary businessman and politician who died a billionaire. In 2008, Forbes listed Perot as the 97th richest person in the United States with a net worth of $5 billion (McFadden, 2019). When he died, his net worth was estimated at $4.1 billion, which put him in 172nd place (McFadden, 2019). However, Perot was not always a rich person, as he emerged from an impoverished family in Texas (Gross, 2012).
He was a son of a secretary and a cotton broker, and at the age of seven, he was forced to take various odd jobs to support the family (Gross, 2012). He entered the US Naval Academy in 1949 and graduated as a Naval officer in 1953 (Gross, 2012). Perot served in the Korean war for four years, which made him a very determined man (Gross, 2012). He would always say that the world is full of quitters that give up just before they are about to reach success (Gross, 2012). The military made Perot a man of dedication and persistence, which helped him reach success (Gross, 2012). Thus, Perot’s early life experience contributed to him becoming a successful person.
After being discharged from the military, Perot started his civic carrier as a salesperson at IBM in 1957 and started his own business, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), in 1962 (Gross, 2012). The money to start the business was given by his wife, Margot Birmingham, showing that he was prepared to use any resources available to reach his goal (Gross, 2012). Today, the company is worth billions of dollars and provides jobs for more than 70,000 employees (Gross, 2012).
In 1979, he ran a successful mission of rescuing two EDS employees who were held prisoners in Iran (Gross, 2012). In 1992, concerned with the budgetary crisis in the US, Perot ran for president with a campaign that promoted economic nationalism, the war on drugs, and so-called electronic town halls (Gross, 2012). Even though the attempt was unsuccessful, it had a significant impact on politics in the US.
Perot’s 1992 Campaign
Perot ran for president as an independent candidate with a populist campaign. On February 20, 1992, when interviewed on television said that he would not run for president unless people in all 50 states put him on the voting ballot, setting a challenge for his supporters around the country (Prendergast, 2019). He argued that he did not want to sell to any party, as he would only sell out to the people of the United States (Prendergast, 2019).
According to Schulte-Sasse (1993), this move positioned Perot as a servant of a real hero – the US citizens. Schulte-Sasse (1993) mentions that his campaign was based upon the longing for the vanished America and the fictional values of the past. In other words, he wanted to return to the country back to the times when it was strong politically, financially, and military. Prendergast (2019) mentions that it was the perfect time for a hero to appear and save the people of the US, as the country experienced a significant economic recession with an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent. Moreover, due to the events in Iraq, George Bush’s rating was trailing at 29%. This created the opportunity for a reform-minded person to enter the political arena.
The central idea of his campaign was to balance the budget, as he realized the consequences of long-term debt at the national level. As a person with no political background and strong managerial skills, he called for careful management of public funds through nationalization and control (Prendergast, 2019). Perot wanted the government authorities to act frugally and not rely on special interests (Prendergast, 2019). He wanted to fight corruption and demonstrated that he did want any money from the government by paying for his own presidential campaign, which was a populist method to approach the matter (Prendergast, 2019). Thus, Perot had a perfect approach to win a large percentage of votes from both of his rivals, Bill Clinton and George Bush.
Impact of Perot’s Campaign
The result of Perot’s campaign was outstanding for a third-party candidate. In particular, he managed to receive almost 19% of the popular vote, attracting people supporting the democrats and the republicans (Prendergast, 2019). However, even though Perot won the hearts of almost 20 million Americans, he failed to receive any electoral votes, which once again drew attention to the imperfection of the US election system (Prendergast, 2019). Many talks emerged about how the system should be changed to return the real power to the US citizens, as Perot desired (Prendergast, 2019). However, it was not his only achievement.
Both parties realized the worries of the US citizens and adopted some of the core ideas from his campaign. It is always the case with third-party candidates that the more votes they win, the more unclaimed votes there are to battle for in future elections (Prendergast, 2019). Republicans did a better job approaching Perot’s supporters, which allowed them to gain the majority in the House in 1994, which implies that the effects of Perot’s campaign were long-lasting.
At the same time, Bill Clinton turned to the idea of a balanced budget and managed to achieve it in the late 1990s (Prendergast, 2019). However, it should be noticed that Perot did not achieve his central goal of changing presidential politics as a whole (Prendergast, 2019). Perot made an attempt to make himself easy to understand and promote the idea that presential candidates send a clear message to all people instead of hiding the real message behind the complicated words (Prendergast, 2019). Even though he reached the ears of millions of Americans, his ideas were implemented only partially.
Ross Perot was a perfect person that appeared at the perfect time to make an impact as a third-party candidate. It is unlikely that any other person could have achieved similar results, as he or she would need to appear in times of a severe economic crisis and have enough personal funds to support the campaign. Even though Perot won millions of public votes, he was unable to take any electoral votes from the dominant parties demonstrating the imperfections of the election system. While his idea of making the election politics understandable for all the people failed, both Republicans and Democrats implemented his ideas to win the votes. This implies that Perot had a long-lasting impact on US politics.
Gross, K. (2012). Ross Perot: The man behind the myth. Random House Publishing Group.
McFadden, R. (2019). Ross Perot, a brash Texas billionaire who ran for president, dies at 89. The New York Times. Web.
Prendergast, K. (2019). An outsider’s campaign: Ross Perot’s impact on presidential politics. The Histories, 8(1), 27-35.
Schulte-Sasse, L. (1993). Meet Ross Perot: The lasting legacy of Capraesque populism. Cultural Critique, (25), 91-119.