What was Ross Perot's impact on politics?

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Speed read

What's happening: Ross Perot, the billionaire businessman who became a household name as an independent candidate for president, died Tuesday from leukemia. He was 89.

Perot earned 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 presidential election, running against incumbent George H.W. Bush and then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. It was by far the most successful performance by a third-party candidate in modern American history. Perot was blamed for Bush losing his bid for reelection, although that claim has largely been debunked.

Perot was known for his larger-than-life personality, his quotable catch phrases and his blunt rhetoric. His political message centered on deficit reduction, opposition to free trade policies and anti-establishment sentiment. He was often a subject of parodies, most notably on "Saturday Night Live" and Nickelodeon's "All That."

Why there's debate: Perot has been called "the most influential political force" of the late 20th century who emerged from outside the two major parties. His innovative campaign strategy — leaning more heavily on television over newspapers — has been credited with setting the stage for modern use of new media by candidates.

Some also see Perot's ability to harness popular discontent with the political establishment as a precursor to the outsider image that characterized Donald Trump's successful presidential campaign. Others point to Perot's legacy beyond politics, specifically his influence on educationbusiness and sports.

There are those, however, who believe Perot's success in the 1992 election pushed President Clinton and future Democrats to alter their economic policies in a way that hurt social programs and perpetuated inequality.

Perspectives

Perot's potent economic message helped shape political policy for decades.

"The man was a lightning bolt, striking randomly. Occasionally, he hit something of substance and, more often, he just lit up the sky for a second and was gone. But he helped to change the Democratic Party on economics, and not entirely in a good way, but in a direction that most of the presidential candidates of 2019 still are trying to reverse." — Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

He should be admired for the intense, unfailing ambition.

"Taking in the broader sweep of the man, we would say he was a person who didn't accept the world as it was. … In many ways he did that by capturing the imagination of millions and signaling that the seemingly impossible was achievable." — Editorial, Dallas Morning News

Perot inspired everyday Americans to believe they could affect how the country was run.

"Perot was a can-do warrior, a self-made billionaire businessman, and an unabashed lover of America who turned millions of Americans into believers that he, and they, could make a difference in altering the political process. " — Ed Rollins, USA Today

His success in harnessing new media shaped how political campaigns are run today.

"Many [modern candidates] are making the most of new media, this time social media, in addition to the political talk shows and cable news town halls, to get their message across — a form of presidential campaigning that Perot helped popularize." — Olivia B. Waxman, Time

His TV spots were a precursor to cable news.

"Although Perot's independent candidacy was unsuccessful in the 1992 election (and he really struggled in 1996), his television-centered strategy served as a model for subsequent candidates from both major parties. For better or worse, Perot understood that cable television had become the dominant medium of political communication." — Julian Zelizer, CNN

He tolerated being laughed at and used it to his advantage.

"Voters understood on some level that Perot was being mocked less for being funny-looking than for having the temerity to run for president without going through party bureaucracies, donors, and the Washington media." — Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

He should be remembered as a one-of-a-kind figure.

"Some people just have better stories than the rest of us. They’re in the middle of things — big things that we all pay attention to — all of the time. … Ross Perot was one of those." — Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune

Perot tapped into many Americans’ aversion to the political establishment.

"Perot’s 19 percent of the vote was an early indicator of the deep discontent with the bipartisan political class in Washington." — W. James Antle III, American Conservative

Beyond politics, Perot had a major impact in business and with philanthropic pursuits.

"Perot’s political activities largely ended after the nineties, but he will continue to be a presence in cultural and civic life after his death through his foundation and his investments. … True originals never really fade away." — Dan Solomon, Texas Monthly

His populist strategy set the stage for Donald Trump's successful presidential run.

"A generation before Americans would hand the keys to the White House to a populist outsider, billionaire businessman Ross Perot set the stage for this seismic political shift by mining voters’ discontent with Washington and the two-party system." — David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner

Perot showed the political benefit of listening to your constituents.

“However flawed the messenger, however misguided the policy proposal, when millions of people are crying out — in pain, in frustration, in anger — the best response of a leader is to listen. … If politicians today want to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle quality of Perot’s quixotic, chaotic, hypnotic campaign, the first thing they should do is grow a pair of Perot-sized ears."
— Paul Begala, Washington Post

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