Since the death of H. Ross Perot at age 89 on Tuesday, one part of the Texas billionaire’s adventurous life was again being rehashed.
Did Perot’s on-again, off-again independent presidential campaign in 1992 cost George H.W. Bush's re-election bid or simply kept Bill Clinton from winning the presidency by an even larger margin, pundits and pols asked.
In various interviews as a former president, the 41st president made it clear he felt fellow Texan Perot’s 18.9 percent of the presidential vote took votes that would otherwise have been his and was responsible for Clinton’s win by a margin of 43 to 37.4 percent (or 370 electoral votes to 168 for Bush).
Bush-41’s mantra was repeated by his running mate Dan Quayle, as well as by numerous Republicans over the years. Their claim, in summary, was “Bush would have won without Perot in the race.”
Looking back and analyzing it 27 years later, their claim is moonshine.
“I looked hard at the numbers [in ‘92] and Bush’s loss had nothing to do with Perot,” Ed Rollins, manager of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign and briefly Perot’s political quarterback in 1992, told Newsmax in 2014.
Bush, according to Rollins, “lost 4 million votes to Clinton that had gone for Reagan in 1980 and ’84, and for Bush himself in 1988. These came from three key groups in Reagan’s conservative coalition: economic conservatives, who never forgave him for breaking his ‘read my lips’ pledge and raising taxes; national security conservatives, disappointed by his cutting defense spending to the lowest percentage of the Gross Domestic Product since Pearl Harbor and libertarian conservatives, who watched regulation increase in the environmental area.”
Arkansas Gov. Clinton campaigned as a “different kind of Democrat” and abjured the term “liberal.”
In Rollins words, “Clinton was a very acceptable alternative for the Reagan-Bush voters who grew disenchanted.”
In making up the loss of the 4 million, Bush would have had to get a substantial amount of Perot’s voters. This would have been an uphill task, since the billionaire maverick’s positions on cultural and other issues were less like Bush’s and more like Clinton’s: pro-choice on abortion, pro-gay rights (although he said he didn’t know any gay people), not adverse to a tax increase, and vague on gun control.
Perot also made it clear he would not have nominated conservative hero Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court because, in his words, “Justice Thomas and [accuser Anita] Hill destroyed each other in those confirmation hearings.”
Further evidence of conservative abandonment of Bush is found in Republican votes for lower offices. As the president was drawing a lower percentage of the vote than landslide loser Barry Goldwater did as the Republican nominee in 1964, Republicans actually made a net gain of ten seats in the House — only the second time in the 20th century Republicans lost the White House, but increased their ranks in the House.
In California, which the Bush-Quayle campaign team wrote off in the fall, Bush ended up with 30 percent of the vote. Republican U.S. Senate nominee and conservative TV commentator Bruce Herschensohn lost to Democrat Barbara Boxer, but ran more than a million votes ahead of Bush.
“According to exit polls [on Election Day], Perot voters would have split evenly and every state would have gone the same except Ohio which would have gone for Bush,” veteran election analyst Jay O’Callaghan told us.
Former National Journal editor John Judis assessed the 1992 vote and, like O’Callaghan, concluded that in a two-candidate contest, Perot’s voters would have split evenly between the two major party candidates.
Based on Judis’ analysis, Clinton would have won with 53 percent.
“That’s the way I remember what the polling showed about Ross’s support,” Orson Swindle, former Vietnam POW and Perot’s 1992 spokesman, told Newsmax, “They were split right down the middle between people who would have backed Bush and Clinton.”
Swindle seconded Rollins’ assessment that Bush’s defeat was primarily due to the abandonment of his base.
“I admired President Bush,” he said, “but Ross Perot should not be blamed for his defeat. Had he just not raised taxes, his base would have stayed with him and Bill Clinton might today be an asterisk.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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