Tuesday’s Boston Globe had a very interesting article abut Ross Perot and Donald Trump. The title, “How Ross Perot paved the way for Donald Trump,” grabs your attention immediately, as does the very first sentence and following paragraph.
The first paragraph of H Ross Perot’s was written decades before his death: He’s a self-made billionaire who became the most successful third-party presidential candidate in nearly a century.
But the legacy of Perot, who died Tuesday at 89 years old, extends well beyond what he did in the 1990s. Perot not only showed Trump how to run as a populist for president but also how to use cable news to build a brand, frame a nationalist agenda around opposing free trade, and, yes, how to use Mexico as a political foil.
The article draws some interesting parallels.
If Donald Trump is the kind of Jesus of the disenchanted, displaced non-college white voter, then Perot was the John the Baptist of that sort of movement, Democratic strategist James Carville said in a 2016 podcast.
Further down, the article describes how both Perot and Trump made innovative use of the media platforms of the time, Perot on “Larry King Live,” and Trump using Twitter.
Here’s what the authors likely considered, their “money quote”
But, if there was one major lesson Trump might have learned from Perot, it was this: Even for a wealthy outsider with populist appeal, it is best to work within the two-party framework.
Although this is likely true, there’s another lesson, a lesson long ignored by the Washington political class. It was ignored when Perot ran and it was ignored when Trump ran; Executive Experience isn’t just “political.” Executive Experience, was most succinctly described by President Harry Truman as, The Buck Stops Here. Executive experience means having real, no-kiddin’, personal responsibility for outcomes, good and bad, of large organizations and the people who work for them.
Populism is all well and good, as long as the candidate is perceived as someone who can get those things done, the populace believes most important. Both Candidates Ross Perot and Donald Trump were widely viewed as men of action and accomplishment by other such men. The D.C. punditry along with the politicians they pontificate about, are rarely men of action, men who rarely if ever, hold significant responsibility. Thus, they have no clue how to evaluate the likes of Perot and Trump.
That D.C “elite,” made fun of Ross Perot and his infomercials that consisted of him talking to a series of charts that explained his different positions. Having never held positions of responsibility that required actual, measurable performance, they were unable to view him in the proper light. That same Beltway elite was very surprised when Perot, got 19 percent of the vote, running against Bill Clinton and the incumbent President, George H.W. Bush. This was the highest ever vote count by a third party candidate.
Fast forward to 2016, Donald J. Trump glides down the escalator and announces his candidacy based on the same populist message as Perot’s. The media elite, were once again faked out. Labeling Donald Trump a “buffoon” and “not serious” about his Presidential run, they wildly underestimated him. By the time they figured out that their “earned media” exposure had vaulted him into the top tier of Republican candidates, it was too late. He had the ear of “deplorable” America. Like Perot and his work ethic, Trump out paced the criminal crone from Chappaqua in the states most critical. We all know the result.
Although his speech pattern is obviously different than Perot’s, Donald Trump exhibits the same blunt, to-the-point style. Trump, like most successful executives (and military commanders) doesn’t pull any punches. Like Perot, Trump is driven by results. Neither of them believe in the D.C. way of doing things. My take, is that Perot if elected, would be doing the same things that President Trump is now doing, perhaps with a little less drama, but with essentially the same results. In short, H. Ross Perot did indeed, pave the way for President Donald J. Trump…and that’s a good thing.
Mike Ford, a retired Infantry Officer, writes on Military, Foreign Affairs and occasionally dabbles in Political and Economic matters.
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