This piece by Rick Perlstein in Rolling Stone explains how I was charmed by Ross Perot twice in the 1990s:
Specifically, the weirdo billionaire Texas populist won nearly nineteen percent of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election – the most for a third-party candidate in 80 years – with an odd platform of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, Immediately and instinctively, both parties began bidding for his constituency. The Democrats, however, had to punt: President Clinton had made passing the North American Free Trade agreement his obsession in 1993, but opposing it was Perot’s obsession.
In stepped the Republicans. The party’s Orwellian-in-Chief, messaging guru Frank Luntz, spoke at a Republican retreat a month after Clinton’s inauguration and described the Perot vote as “the GOP’s future.” Newt Ginrich, convinced, implored every Republican candidate and official to read Lunt’z presentation. Other bigwigs demurred: Bob Dole, for instance, said Perot was nothing but a “walking sound bite,” and pointed out, “There are more new taxes in his program than in Clinton’s program.” Aye, there was the rub: Perot was no conservative. His quirky mix of policy prescriptions included huge hikes on gas and tobacco taxes and new taxes on social security and employee health insurance benefits; he was obsessed with the federal deficit, and dead serious about eliminating it. He was for less American involvement abroad, and abhorred the politicization of the kind of “social issues” around which the Republicans had organized their 1992 convention. (Their platform opened with a nearly-6,000-word section, 14 percent of the document, on “traditional family values,” and featured Pat Buchanan’s infamous speech declaring,”There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war”).
Perot, however, was pro-choice. Still, he was also a tribune of “reform” – his vehicle, remember, was called the Reform Party. That meant, in Perot’s terms, strict ethics rules for Congress and government officials; campaign finance and lobbying reforms, especially for former officeholders; cutbacks on executive and congressional staff; and – the jug-eared billionaire’s unique calling card – an insistence on term limits for politicians. And this, to cynical Republicans like Gingrich who had been indifferent if not hostile to any such notions before, was something they could work with.
Craziness aside, Perot ideologically resembled the socially-liberal and fiscally-conservative kind of politics that were the eventual outcomes of Bill Clinton’s presidency and Ed Rendell’s governing of Pennsylvania. I particularly like his refusal to engage in the religious right’s culture war. Also, I liked charts, which were Perot’s tool of choice.
Newt Gingrich then took Perot’s strengths with voters and distilled them into the Contract with America, as described later in the article. I’d like to personally thank Newt Gingrich and all his slimey, detestable, obvious coniving for NOT making me a Republican. It still took me another 8 years to pick a side.
And I still like charts.