Ross Perot: billionaire who ran for president dies aged 89

Perot, who founded the computer services giant Electronic Data Systems, challenged George HW Bush and Bill Clinton as an independent in 1992

Ross Perot, an eccentric Texan billionaire who lived a picaresque life and twice ran for president as an independent, has died. He was 89.


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Among Republicans, historians and followers of US politics the world over, debate will forever rage about whether Perot cost George HW Bush the presidency in 1992, when he took 19% of the vote and Bill Clinton won the White House.

On Tuesday, one commentator called Perot a stick of dynamite in the pond of US politics. The New York Times chose to call him a wiry Texas gadfly. The Dallas News quoted a friend who called Perot a Boy Scout who knows how to street-fight.

Debate will also continue about whether Perot prefigured or paved the way for the rise of Donald Trump. Another billionaire populist, Trump first flirted with a run for the presidency in 2000, seeking the nomination of the Reform party, which Perot founded after his first campaign and led in his second.

Born in Texarkana in 1930, Perot was christened Henry Ray but changed his name to that of his father. He served in the US navy and worked for IBM before founding his own computer services giant, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), in 1962. He took EDS public in 1968, becoming a millionaire, and sold control to General Motors for $2.5bn in 1984. He founded another company, Perot Systems, which was sold to Dell for $3.9bn in 2009.

Notably, Perot retained close control of EDS employees appearance and behaviour. Beards and moustaches were banned as were labour unions.

In the public sphere, Perot worked to support families of prisoners of war in Vietnam, energetically pursuing the controversial claim that thousands of PoWs were left in the country after the end of the war. In 1979, he financed and oversaw a commando-style rescue of two EDS employees from an Iranian prison, an escapade which inspired a book and a film. He was involved in educational reform in Texas and bought from Britain a 13th-century copy of Magna Carta which is now in the national archives in Washington.

In 1992, he jumped into the presidential race as an independent, espousing populist views which placed him on the right though he remained a supporter of abortion rights and raising taxes to fund education.

Writing for the Washington Post in March of election year, David Remnick now editor of the New Yorker considered how Perot was tapping into frustrations with two-party politics as usual.

Daily we are told there is a lot of anger out there, Remnick wrote, and no doubt there is. Perot has the means to take advantage, making him the most serious third-party candidate since George Wallace the governor of Alabama who challenged Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey in 1968.


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Remnick also wrote that Perot shows a refreshing grasp of the deficit disaster but added, in words which may seem prescient in the age of Trump: He also seems to think that the president is a CEO and the constitution an inconvenience.

Perot spent $63.5m of his own money, reaching voters with appearances on CNN and buying his own 30-minute TV spots in which he used charts and graphs to make points he summarised with a line that became a national catchphrase: Its just that simple.

He named the former Vietnam PoW Adm James Stockdale as his running mate, and peaked at 40% in the polls. In the end he drew the biggest percentage of the vote for a third-party candidate in 80 years.

Many observers suggested he had undercut himself with his eccentricity and penchant for conspiracy theories, but nonetheless many Republicans blamed him for Clintons win. In 2000 he at least partially rebuilt bridges, endorsing George W Bush.

On Tuesday, the younger Bush said Texas and America have lost a strong patriot who epitomised the entrepreneurial spirit and the American creed. Bush also offered heartfelt condolences to the Perot family.

Ross Perot appears in a paid 30-minute television commercial in October 1992. Photograph: AP

Al Gore, who beat Bush in the popular vote in 2000 but lost the presidency, said he had always had the utmost respect for Ross Perot, for his patriotism, love of country, and extraordinary commitment to our veterans.

Among other tributes, Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Perot was a stick of dynamite in the pond of US politics back in 1992, and he was an American original, who got a larger portion of the vote [as a third-party candidate] than anyone since Bull Mooses Teddy Roosevelt in 1912.

In 1996, Perot founded the Reform party and ran for president again, winning 8% of the vote as Clinton beat Bob Dole.

At the end of his life Perot had leukaemia, the Dallas News reported, saying the illness was diagnosed in February.

In 2016, Perot gave what turned out to be his last interview to the same paper. He said he was not worried about how he would be remembered and offered a characteristically unusual coda.

Texas born. Texas bred. When I die, Ill be Texas dead. Ha!


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