February 4, 2019


Howard Schultz and the Ghosts of 1992: Ross Perot took 20 percent of the vote from George H.W. Bush, the incumbent Republican president. Could Howard Schultz do the same thing? (MARY HARRIS, FEB 02, 2019, Slate)

"If you look at the third-party candidacies that have gotten some traction, I think the best one, the most encouraging modern example for somebody like Howard Schultz who might be thinking about running third-party, would be Ross Perot in 1992," Kornacki says.

That guy heckling Howard Schultz at a New York City bookstore, and all the people roasting him on Twitter--they're haunted by the ghosts of that 1992 election. Like Howard Schultz, Ross Perot ran as a billionaire and a Washington outsider. He actually got nearly 20 percent of the vote. It wasn't enough to win, but some say it was enough to change the outcome.

To understand how Schultz could change things in 2020, I asked Kornacki to take me back to the '90s. Even though what happened back in 1992 is not the perfect analogy for today--no story would be--there are still many similarities.

Like Schultz, Ross Perot was a well-known businessman when he decided to run for office in the early '90s. Like today, the sitting president, George H.W. Bush, was in trouble. The economy was faltering. He was worried about being implicated in the Iran-Contra affair.

"What you saw in the start of 1992 was that Bush's approval rating was plummeting," says Kornacki. "A year earlier, he'd led the country to victory in a war--the first Gulf War--to get Saddam Hussein out of Iraq. In February 1992, Bush's approval rating falls to 39 percent. It's in that climate that Ross Perot goes on the CNN program Larry King Live and is pressed about a presidential run.

"King asks him a bunch of times, Hey, you know what people are looking for? Would you run for president?" says Kornacki.

Eventually, Perot sort of relents, hinting that he would run if people were willing to organize and get him on the ballot.

"You don't have social media in the way we know it today, and yet it's this sort of viral moment," Kornacki says. "The word of that moment, the clip of that moment, spreads. It spreads slower than it would now, but over the course of days, weeks, and months, this massive--truly, truly massive--grassroots movement emerges that starts getting Perot on the ballot."

By June of 1992, Ross Perot is running in first place in the national polls. He's ahead of President George H.W. Bush, and Gov. Bill Clinton is far behind. People begin to believe that it may actually be possible--that Ross Perot might actually win the presidential election, become an independent president, and blow up the two-party system.

Posted by at February 4, 2019 4:02 AM