Ross Perot is no longer on the national stage, but Perot-ism is back with a vengeance. Ross Perot, the third-party candidate who challenged President George H. W. Bush in 1992 and President Bill Clinton in 1996, is quiet these days. But his campaign messages and former voters are very much alive and vocal in 2009. Perot-ism may be the thing that puts the brakes on the Democrats and Barack Obama’s more extravagant plans.
What exactly is Perot-ism? Perot-ism was less about ideology and more about pragmatism. It was about balanced budgets and government efficiency. Perot supported a gas tax and curbs on Social Security. He understood that everything has a cost that must be paid. Perot-ism attacked deficits, and was a catalyst of the Clinton years’ budgets. Perot-ism gave voice to the guy who finished high school and may have gone on to college. Perot was not the candidate of the high school drop out or the Ivy League Ph.D. Perot-ism could have been the politics of Richie Cunningham's dad on "Happy Days."
Perot-ism is now a primary critique of what is wrong with the pork-laden stimulus package and ObamaCare. Perotism was about fiscal prudence. Obama-ism and Pelosi-ism are all about fiscal recklessness and political fecklessness.
But what makes Perot-ism a force to be reckoned with is that Perot-ism was bipartisan in its critique. Perot voters were not wedded to either major party. Perot challenged both Bush and Clinton. In 1992, 18 percent of self-described liberals and conservatives voted for Perot, while Perot garnered 21 percent of moderates, winning nearly 19 percent of the overall vote.
Perot-type voters abandoned the GOP in 2006 and 2008 because the GOP had demonstrated that it was incompetent to govern, reckless abroad and profligate at home. The GOP rubber-stamped big government spending, at the same time the GOP’s congressional leadership and lobbyists operated under prosecutorial clouds.
Generally speaking, Perot voters were moderate to conservative middle income independents. They are less likely to be found in the Northeast or the Deep South, and more prevalent in the Midwest, the West and the square shaped states.
Social issues did not drive Perot voters. Perot was pro-choice and supported government funding for abortions. But Perot also was no fan of the din that social issues brought. Putting things into perspective, Perot’s supporters generally worshipped less frequently than the average Republican, but lacked the militant secularism of Democratic Party interest group elites. Perot ran relatively well among white Catholics and mainline Protestants.
Which brings us to where the swing vote is -- Perotism without Perot.
As both Barack Obama and defeated congressional Republicans can attest, the swing vote is very much alive. After the elections of 2002 and 2004, it looked liked the American electorate had hardened into two warring camps with little movement between the two sides. The elections of 2006 and 2008 made clear that there actually was a swing vote and that the swing voter would not tolerate ineptitude.
In 2006, Americans returned the Democrats to control of the House and Senate. In 2008, for the first time since Jimmy Carter in 1976, a Democrat won over fifty percent of the popular vote. Barack Obama won an absolute majority with 53 percent of the vote, a margin akin to Bush 41’s win in 1988. It is also fair to say, that the Obama win was, in part, an indictment of the Bush ’43 years.
As always, the ball is always bouncing. The afterglow of the Inauguration is gone. Although in office for less than a year, Obama’s presidency is running into stiff headwinds. Obama’s approval ratings have dropped more precipitously than those of almost any elected modern-day president. According to Gallup, only Presidents Ford and Clinton have fallen more quickly. Liberal Nate Silver at 538.com, is “on the record” predicting that 2010 could be a bad year for the Democrats.
So what has happened? On the domestic front, unemployment remains close to 10 percent and government spending is at new historic levels. The 2009 budget deficit is expected to reach $1.58 trillion and rise to 11.2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Meanwhile, ObamaCare is projected to add another trillion dollars to the budget over the next decade.
These developments give reality-based centrists pause. These facts make independents cringe. These facts make Perot voters scream. Look for the spirit of Perot to return in 2010.
Lloyd Green was an appointee in the Department of Justice during President George H.W.Bush's administration. He currently resides in a very Blue-state suburb.
Lloyd Green was staff secretary to the George H.W. Bush campaign’s Middle East Policy Group in 1988 and served in the Department of Justice between 1990 and 1992.