Jim Lehrer remembers ‘authentic’ underdog Ross Perot

Jim Lehrer remembers ‘authentic’ underdog Ross Perot

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the legacy of two-time
presidential candidate Ross Perot, who passed
away of leukemia today at his home in Dallas.
We begin with a look back at the anti-establishment,
self-made Texas billionaire.
ROSS PEROT, Former Presidential Candidate:
We want to close on our theme song.
Let’s hit it, Ed.
MAN (singing): We’re crazy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: An early disrupter, Ross Perot
was a tech entrepreneur, turned self-made
billionaire, turned the most successful third-party
candidate in modern American political history.
Born into in Depression era Texas, Perot went
on to serve in the Navy before getting a job
as a salesman with IBM.
The scrappy businessman eventually sold his
first company, Electronic Data Systems, to
General Motors for $2.5 billion.
ROSS PEROT: We have got to rebuild our great
We have got to make our country the envy of
the world again.
And I can’t sleep until the words “Made in
the USA” once again become the world standard.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Perot is best known for
his insurgent third-party candidacy in the
1992 presidential election against President
George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger
Bill Clinton.
ROSS PEROT: I wasn’t put on the ballot by
either of the two parties.
This is a movement that came from the people.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mixing brashness with charm,
the political outsider pitched himself as
a fighter for everyday Americans.
ROSS PEROT: The party is over, and it’s time
for the cleanup crew.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And he lambasted lawmakers
in Washington as out of touch, paramount being
President Bush.
BUSH, Former President of the United States:
I think it’s experience at this level.
ROSS PEROT: Well, they have got a point.
I don’t have any experience in running up
a $4 trillion debt.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Perot kept up his attacks,
most of them squarely on Mr. Bush, in the
’92 presidential debates, moderated by the
“NewsHour”‘s Jim Lehrer.
BUSH: Free and fair trade is the answer, not
JUDY WOODRUFF: While President Bush pushed
free trade deals like NAFTA, Perot pushed
ROSS PEROT: We have got to stop sending jobs
There will be a giant sucking sound going
So, we — if the people send me to Washington,
the first thing I will do is study that 2,000-page
agreement and make sure it’s a two-way street.
Since we’re dealing with voodoo economics,
a great young lady from Louisiana sent me
this voodoo stick.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Perot’s non-traditional campaign
included 30-minute TV infomercials on issues
like the national deficit, complete with homemade
The programs drew more than 16 million viewers.
ROSS PEROT: Just this year, we ran up $341
billion in new debt, as we discussed the other
That’s our legislators and our president trying
to buy our vote this year with what used to
be our money.
We’re not that dumb.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the end, 19.7 million Americans
voted for Perot in the 1992 election.
Republicans forever blamed him for Clinton’s
win, claiming he siphoned votes from Bush.
But later analysis undercut that.
Perot went on to run in the 1996 presidential
election, before dropping out.
A philanthropist in his later years, Perot
is survived by his wife, Margot, five children,
and 16 grandchildren.
Ross Perot was the best-performing third-party
presidential candidate since Teddy Roosevelt
in 1912.
Some perspective now on his life and legacy
from a man who knew Perot for decades, moderated
two of his presidential debates, and is a
very familiar face to our viewers.
I am so pleased to welcome back “NewsHour”
co-founder Jim Lehrer.
Welcome back to this program that you know
very well.
JIM LEHRER, Co-Founder and Former Anchor,
“PBS NewsHour”: Thank you, Judy.
Thank you.
Oh, thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, I knew Ross Perot after
he became famous and he was running for president,
successful businessman, but you knew him long
before that.
How did you get to know him?
JIM LEHRER: Well, I met him in Dallas.
He was a computer guy who had had an idea
about the way to computerize federal medical
And he created this incredible company.
And he made millions and millions of dollars.
He — because he had been a Naval officer
and I had been a Marine officer at the same
time, there was some overlap.
Most of the people who went to work for him
were former Marine officers and Navy officers.
So, anyhow, I met him that way.
And then somebody said, you ought to get to
know Ross Perot.
You’re going to hear about him a lot in the
So, I made an appointment, went over to see
him, and he and I hit it off.
And we became — there was already a bond
there, that military thing that is always
But, at any rate, I stayed with him, until
I left to come to Washington.
He had already shown that, when he had millions
and millions of dollars, he want to use it
to help other people.
He had already shown that he was a guy who
wasn’t taken with himself.
He was taken with his ideas, but he wasn’t
the standard kind of showboat Texas millionaire
kind of guy.
He was a guy who had millions of dollars,
and he wanted to use it for good things.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What was he like as a person?
JIM LEHRER: Well, he was funny, he was straight,
he was authentic.
The Ross Perot that you sit around a table
and talk to was the same guy who was in a
debate stage many years later as a candidate
for president of the United States.
He always, always felt — he always seemed
to feel comfortable with himself.
He never — he wasn’t an ideologue.
He didn’t wake up every morning and say, well,
I’m a conservative, so I got to believe — oh,
I’m a liberal.
But he had — he decided every day, I’m Ross
Perot, and here is what I believe.
And it was the foundation and the motivation
for everything he did in public life, politics
and other things as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Were you surprised when he
said he was going to run for president, and
he brought this idea about, we got to get
government spending down, we got to tackle
this deficit?
JIM LEHRER: You know, I thought — I thought
about that today, and that very question.
I thought, what was it, because I remember
now — and I hope I’m not basing this on what
I hoped my feelings were then.
I thought — I thought, that makes sense for
this guy.
In other words, my feelings about him were
all positive.
We were friends, not personal friends, professional
And I felt I admired him, because I liked
what he had done.
He had supported the military during the Vietnam
War, not — he wasn’t in favor of the war,
He didn’t have a political position on it.
But he supported the people who fought in
the war.
And he spent a lot of his money taking care
of POW families and all that sort of stuff.
But when he announced for president, I thought,
oh, yes, yes, yes, Ross Perot running for
And then, of course, he — we did a lot of
interviews with him on the “NewsHour.”
And I saw him a lot during all that stuff.
And he just confirmed — maybe a little bit
proud to have known him, and, hey, hey, yes,
yes, yes.
And I kept telling people, pay attention to
this guy.
He’s not going to come — he’s not going to
just come and go.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And he did better as an independent
Everybody knows how hard it is to run for
president as an independent.
He ended up getting, as we said, over, what
is it, 19-some million votes for president.
But, Jim, you did moderate those two debates
in 1992 with him, with then President George
H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
Tell us some memories of that.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the biggest memory was — the
major debate I did was at Michigan State University.
And it was a 90-minute debate.
But the debate commission had — had negotiated
with the candidates that the first 45 minutes,
for the first time, would be a single moderator.
And it would be wide-open in terms of rules
and all of that.
And so this was a big deal.
So, once the debate started — and then, in
the second 45, they were going to bring in
three panelists, and we would do the old-fashioned
way, which is the way these debates used to
But, at any rate, things started, and I got
— just the way — it wasn’t me.
I mean, I asked the questions, but George
H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton got into it about
Clinton’s record in Arkansas.
They went back and forth.
And Perot over here on the right didn’t get
to say anything.
And he kept looking at me.
He was — I knew he was going to say something,
and it was going — this whole debate could
go right up into smoke.
At any rate, I essentially — he finally said:
ROSS PEROT: Is there an equal time rule here
BUSH: Yes.
ROSS PEROT: Or do you just keep lunging in
at will?
I thought we were going to have equal time.
But maybe I just have to interrupt the other
Is that the way it works, this…
JIM LEHRER: No, Mr. Perot, you’re doing fine.
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
JIM LEHRER: Whatever you want to say, say
He looked at me, and he was ready to go.
And I looked at him, and I — he heard me.
And he hushed.
And it — he was terrific at the debate.
He would — if he would — if he had played
games in that debate, it would hurt him.
And from my point of view — and I was looking
at it from my point of view as well, but also
from the viewers’ point of view — it could
have been a disaster.
And it wasn’t…
JIM LEHRER: … because he understood — he
understood what he needed to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you — you have told
us so much about his life.
What do you think his legacy is?
I mean, we have talked about he — most successful
independent candidate since Teddy Roosevelt.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the reason he was successful
is, he had two things going for him that are
— sound familiar in the current situation,
but they’re not quite that familiar.
He had — he had ideas that were not driven
by ideology.
For instance, he was pro-choice.
He was for gun control, as all — most military,
real military people are who know about guns.
And — but, at the same time, he was very
conservative about the military, about budgets
and all that.
JIM LEHRER: … in welfare and all of that.
So, as I say, he made his own — his own thing.
But what he had — and he was able to explain
what he believed and why he believed it.
But he had that additional thing, was, he
had resources.
He made it — he spent $68 million of his
own money.
There was nothing about small donors.
There were no donors, just Ross Perot.
And he spent huge amounts of money.
And he got them — and for these things that
he did, these 30-minute infomercials he did,
he did — he used the — you can have all
the — you could have all the Ross Perot positives,
but, without the resources, it’s not going
to work.
That’s the legacy of — there are two things
that he had going for him.
And anybody who wants to write the lessons
for the future, that’s it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Scrappy, that’s the word we
think of with him.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim Lehrer, thank you very
much for coming back to talk about Ross Perot.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, Judy.

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