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Opening Arguments

Watch out for the clown

For more than two decades now, the accepted wisdom has been that Ross Perot "cost" George H.W. Bush his 1992 re-election bid. But the reality is that he probably saved Bush from an ignominious and humiliating loss that would have rivaled FDR's 1932 drubbing of Herbert Hoover:

The 1992 Battleground Survey — conducted and analyzed on a bipartisan basis by The Tarrance Group (a fabled GOP firm) and Lake Research Partners (a storied Democratic firm) — shows the following:

On September 30 — the last day before Perot re-entered the race — Clinton led Bush by an 11-point margin, at 49-38 percent, with Perot taking six percent.

One day later — the day Perot re-entered the race — Clinton’s lead shrank to nine points, 47-38 percent, with Perot nudging up a point to seven percent.

Thirty days later, on November 1 — the last day the survey was fielded — Clinton’s lead had shrunk further, to just four points, at 40-36 percent over Bush, with Perot polling at 19 percent.

So, during the course of Perot’s late-season charge, Clinton’s support dropped from 49 percent to 40 percent (a significant nine-point drop), while Bush’s support dropped from 38 percent to 36 percent (a mere two-point drop, inside the margin of error of the survey).

Meanwhile, Perot was gaining 13 points on the ballot — nine points of which came from Clinton, two points of which came from Bush, and two points of which came from previously undecided voters.

In other words, to the extent voters left Bush and Clinton for Perot, those who left Clinton for Perot outnumbered those who left Bush for Perot by more than 4-to-1.

Worse for the Barbour/Quayle argument, the remaining five percent of voters who remained undecided right up until the election split 3-1-1 for Clinton-Bush-Perot on Election Day. That’s another way of saying that on the day before the election, 80 percent of the remaining undecided voters had, in fact, decided — they had decided they were not going to vote for Bush. They just hadn’t decided whether they would ultimately cast their vote for Clinton, or for Perot. And Clinton ended up getting 75 percent of them.

Do the math. Had Perot not been in the race, Clinton’s final tally likely would have been 13 points higher than it was, while Bush’s likely would have been just three points higher.

Without Perot in the race, the final outcome likely would have been 56-40 percent, Clinton over Bush. That would have been the worst loss by a Republican President seeking reelection since 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt crushed Herbert Hoover by a 57-40 percent margin.

As the writer notes, Perot's campaign was not the cause of the malady that afflicted the 1992 Bush-Quayle ticket, it was but a symptom.

This is apropos to the present moment, of course, because of the speculation about whether Donald Trump would decide to run as an independent candidate should he feel mistreated by the GOP. The fear is that he would "cost" the Republican candidate the election the way Perot allegedly did Bush. But the anger out there directed at the ruling class is even stronger than it was in 1992 and, as then, present on both sides of the political divide. (Consider Hillary Clinton's slide in the polls and the enthusiasm among Democrats for Bernie Sanders).

So, Democrats and Republicans alike are open to a flamboyant showman the elite may dismiss as a circus clown as long as they think he's shooting straight with them and takes their concerns seriously. If he goes rogue, I think it's anybody's guess whose votes he steals the most of.