When you look closely at Perot’s campaigns, you see his influence everywhere ever since. His populist attitude against Washington informed the Gingrich-led Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. His fondness for plain-spoken fiscal rectitude popped up again in Al Gore’s Social Security “lock box” and later in the Tea Party.
And of course, Perot now looks like the Morning Star of Trumpism. Running into the 2000 campaign, Perot fought with Donald Trump and Pat Buchanan over the remnants of the Reform party that Perot had created in 1996. It had a secularist tilt and it had something of Perot’s conspiratorial mindset. Jesse Ventura, the action-film star, professional wrestler, and conspiracy peddler, became the governor of Minnesota running as a member of the Reform party in 1998, though he left it as Buchanan threatened to take over. Buchanan eventually won the Reform party’s nomination, but his poor campaign in 2000 made it a useless political vehicle thereafter.
Like Perot, President Trump is also a billionaire populist and a trade protectionist. Trump appeals to the same secular, nationalist voters that were Perot’s base. But Trump also appealed to and made pacts with all the factions of the Republican party. Of its billionaire populists, America chose the reality-TV show star and New York real-estate figure over the Texas naval veteran and entrepreneur.