Donald Trump's apparent eagerness to run for the presidency of the United States enlivens the Republican race. But the history of big business tycoons getting into politics has not been encouraging for Mr Trump. Steve Forbes (of Forbes Magazine) flamed out a few years ago. Ross Perot was much more impressive in 1992, but still only managed 19% of the vote. In an AV system that would almost certainly have handed the presidency in 1992 to George H W Bush since Perot took more votes from Republican-leaning types than from Bill Clinton. But Perot ran as an independent. Trump may decide to try for the Republican nomination, though it will be a long hard road. Americans very often look to an "outsider" to save them from "politics as usual" and then when they take a close look at the "outsider" they usually decide to have another look at the professional politicians.
I discussed all this with Steve Forbes and Ross Perot during their campaigns. With Perot I said that regarding becoming president of the United States as an entry level job -- Perot had never run for public office before -- was a bit like choosing to visit a dentist who had never drilled teeth before, or flying in a plane with someone who had never taken a flying lesson. Perot laughed and said that the trouble was that the professional politicians were the ones who got us into this mess -- and he could get us out. "This mess" was of course the 1991 recession and its aftermath and Perot transformed the campaign by explaining to everyone why deficit reduction should be a core issue. Fast forward to 2011 -- and many Americans already know that deficit reduction is a core issue.
Personally, I really enjoyed Ross Perot's company. At our first meeting he suggested we go for lunch in Dallas, Texas. He drove in his own car -- no chauffeur, no fuss. If I had expected a fancy restaurant then I would have been disappointed. We stood in line at a barbecue shack with our trays and ordered pork and slaw and all the trimming plus iced tea - $9 each. At the time Ross Perot was worth more than three billion dollars. I offered to pay for lunch. He let me.