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Ross Perot was the original viral candidate.



Nicco Mele is a professor at the Kennedy School of Harvard. Ron Rapoport is Professor Emeritus John Marshall at the College of William and Mary. Walt Stone is professor emeritus at the University of California at Davis. Rapoport and Stone are the authors of "Three & # 39; s s Crowd: The Dynamics of Third Parties, Ross Perot and Republican Resurgence. "

It is likely that the story reminds H. Ross Perot as a self-made billionaire and an eccentric presidential candidate with the highest third-party vote in the last century. The 19 percent of the popular vote that received in 1992 is the second after the candidacy of Teddy Roosevelt to the presidency in 1912.

Although the Perot Reform Party had little staying power, its contributions to our policy are its true legacy. Perot, who died on Tuesday at age 89, began a new era of popular political participation, in part by taking advantage of new communication channels, including the "reality television" version of the era.

In the spring of 1992, Perot appeared in "Larry King Live" after the appearance of a basic "Draft Perot" movement. King repeatedly asked him if he would run for president, and finally, in the fifth question, Perot said that if volunteers put him on the ballot in all 50 states, he would run.

Such a challenge seemed difficult, since no third-party candidate had been on the ballot of all states since at least 1920. But the Perot campaign in 1992 was unique in its unprecedented volunteer mobilization. Instead of a barrier, it was an opportunity for Perot supporters to demonstrate their commitment to the cause. And the outpouring of support was unprecedented.

After the King's appearance, calls to Perot's commercial office overwhelmed his capacity and, in March, Perot hired Home Shopping Network (with 1,200 phone lines) to handle the dramatic volume of calls from potential volunteers. After a single appearance on "The Phil Donahue Show," more than 250,000 people called the Perot 1-800 number to volunteer. Two-thirds of those who called had no previous experience in political parties or volunteers for political candidates, a surprising response from previously unencumbered citizens. Perot pioneered the use of general entertainment information for consumers in political campaigns, the first part of his political legacy.

The "Draft Perot" movement arose spontaneously throughout the country without the organizational support of the candidate or those around him. In California, for example, Perot volunteers collected 1.4 million signatures with only one visit from a paid Perot employee. By mid-March 1992, he was getting only 9 percent support for the president, but by the end of April (just two months after the interview with King), he had 27 percent. In early June, he had a dominant advantage over the two main candidates of the party: George H.W. Bush (by 8 percentage points) and Bill Clinton (by 14 percentage points).

Conventional wisdom holds that Perot money made him a popular candidate, but it was the volunteers who made the campaign early. By the time he led the field by more than 10 percentage points, Perot had spent less than a third of the two main candidates (George HW Bush and Bill Clinton), and had even spent less than the two main party candidates (Republican Pat Buchanan and the democrat Paul Tsongas). At the end of the day, Perot submitted 5.3 million signatures in all 50 states and the District.

Perot supporters continued to participate long after the Perot campaign ended. Despite the opposition of Bob Dole and the Republican establishment, Newt Gingrich courted Perot and his supporters, even modeling his "Contract with the United States" according to the Perot campaign manifesto. Two years later, in the midterm elections of 1994, Gingrich's courtship paid off. The voters of Perot, despite being divided equally between the parties in 1992, were 2 for 1 for the candidates for the Republican Congress.

Today, Perot's legacy resides in rising economic nationalism in the Republican Party. Two of President Trump's signature problems are rooted in the Perot movement. After the election, Perot decided to focus on the commercial and anti-NAFTA parts of its platform. Vice President Al Gore challenged Perot to discuss the merits of NAFTA on Perot's favorite show, "Larry King Live." Despite Perot's disastrous performance, his arguments began to gain strength in the traditionally free-trade republican electorate. Perot supporters also stood out for their overwhelming support for the decline in immigration.

But not all of Perot's agenda has continued. The problem closest to and dear to the heart of Perot, and fundamental to his campaign, has been ignored by both sides since the candidacy of Perot: reduce the federal deficit. Since the Perot campaign in 1992, the federal deficit has increased from $ 290 billion in 1992 to $ 779 billion in 2018. Even in 1994, the majority of Perot supporters favored both tax increases and service cuts to balance the federal budget. The other issue of Perot's signature, the reform of Congress and the financing of campaigns, has also languished.

Still, Perot showed many Americans that, despite not having political experience, they could also make a difference. His encouragement to bold aspirations, put me on the ballot in all 50 states and run, was a lesson that Trump took seriously. Perot inspired millions of Americans to be more active in our politics while offering a political harbinger of things to come.

Read more:

Paul Begala: The lesson of Ross Perot: However defective the messenger – listens

David Von Drehle: Ross Perot walked so that Trump could run

Henry Olsen: If the latest polls are correct, Trump is favored to win reelection

Dana Milbank: Bernie Sanders has become the Donald Trump on the left

Greg Sargent: Do you want to beat Trump in 2020? Register people to vote


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