National Press Club

NPC in History – H. Ross Perot

July 10, 2019 | By Gil Klein | gilbert.klein@me.com

The death this week of H. Ross Perot, the billionaire businessman-turned-presidential hopeful, who may have led the way for Donald Trump’s political career, brings to mind his long association with the National Press Club.

He spoke nine times at Club luncheons, according to the Club’s archives. The first was in 1970 when he was working independently to help free American prisoners of war in Vietnam. He said he would “support the devil himself” for the release of American POWs. “The treatment of our men in Vietnam reads like something out of a Medieval history,” he said.

But his most important speech was on March 18, 1992, as the presidential election was heating up. The two major party candidates were the incumbent George H.W. Bush and the Democratic challenger, the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.

Discontent with the two major parties was running high, as the country was coming out of a recession, and Perot figured how to tap into it, traveling the country to say that the government was not responsive to the people and only a businessman could solve its problems.

“Our government should come from us; it now comes at us,” Perot told the sold-out Club audience. “You can’t be a superpower unless you are an economic superpower. Our present policies will move us from a superpower to a third world country.”

The federal deficit was at $4 trillion and will reach $12 trillion by 2000 unless something is done, he said. “We are now in deep voodoo," he said.

He called the federal government “the world’s most complex business,” and asked, “Which one of the presidential candidates would you let run your business?”

Asked if he was running for president, Perot said he would do so only if there was a spontaneous movement in all 50 states to place him on the ballot.

At the time Perot spoke, the Club sold audio cassettes of the luncheons. Usually only a few sold for each one. But by the time the dust had cleared, the Club had sold about 10,000 from the Perot luncheon. That sounded a lot like a spontaneous movement.

In the presidential race, Perot garnered nearly 20 million votes nationwide, although he did not get any electoral votes. That was more popular votes than any third-party candidate since former President Theodore Roosevelt ran as on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912.

This is another in a series provided by Club historian Gil Klein. Dig down anywhere in the Club’s 111-year history, and you will find some kind of significant event in the history of the world, the nation, Washington, journalism and the Club itself. Many of these events were caught in illustrations that tell the stories.