• U.S.

ROSS PEROT, THIRD-PARTY POOPER

3 minute read
Laurence I. Barrett

Ross Perot knows how to get the adrenaline of his followers flowing. Last fall, when Congress was considering a trade pact Perot despised, he threatened to form a new national party as punishment to the political establishment. When Congress approved GATT anyway, chapters of Perot’s United We Stand America enthusiastically prepared for a fresh adventure with their hero. But the quest never got under way. Perot, to the chagrin of his fans and in an about-face reminiscent of his on-again, off-again, on-again 1992 presidential campaign, had come to the conclusion that it was quixotic. This weekend, when thousands of U.W.S.A. members convene in Dallas for what Perot calls “the political event of the century,” the question of a new party will be buried in a small Sunday workshop, from which the press will be barred. By then, many u.w.s.a. members will have left. The adventure has become an asterisk.

“He’s gone the politics-as-usual route,” rails Nicholas Sabatine, chairman of the Patriot Party, an infant offshoot of Perot’s 1992 campaign organization. “He is angering a lot of his people.” Perot admits he is abandoning a grand scheme popular with many voters. “That everyone is for a third alternative is obvious,” he says. “But is it the best thing to do? If you start a third party and do everything perfectly, you have started down a path that will probably take 10 years [to capture] the White House, the House and the Senate. Can’t make it overnight. We don’t have 10 years.” Taming the deficit, overhauling Medicare, reforming the campaign-finance system are too urgent, he says, and “the most constructive thing for our country is to revitalize the two major parties.”

Practical considerations also played a part in Perot’s change of mind. His legal advisers told him that election laws in most states would bar using the party strictly as a pressure device–that is, to offer an extra ballot line as a prize to Republican or Democratic congressional candidates who toe Perot’s line. Meanwhile, most U.W.S.A. chapters are not up to the Herculean task of fund-raising and recruiting efforts that would be necessary to field their own slates everywhere. In fact, the organization has suffered periodically from internal feuds within states and from tension between local activists and national headquarters in Dallas. Perot feared that a full-blown crusade would provoke more rivalries in the ranks and attract some eccentrics as would-be candidates.

Besides, without a national figure at the top of the ticket, the new party would lack focus. And Perot has not yet decided on a second run for the presidency. He will not make that decision until he knows how much rapport he has with the likely Republican nominee. That, say insiders, will take about three months. Stay tuned.

–By Laurence I. Barrett

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com