Despite that calamity, Perot still managed to pick up nearly 20% of the presidential vote while spending less than $63 million. That was the best performance by a third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt took 28% of the vote and 88 electoral votes with the Bull Moose Party in 1912. Though the standard line was that he took away votes from Bush and handed the election to Clinton, exit poll data showed that Perot pulled pretty evenly from both sides of the aisle. While Posner says Paul could have a similar appeal to disenchanted GOP hard-liners and disenfranchised young Democratic voters who cast their ballot for a revolution in 2008 and got an election instead, Paul's lack of Perot's Texas-sized personality and economic largesse may limit him to 4% to 5% of the vote at best in a field of well-heeled competitors.
There's also one big difference between Perot's campaign and a potential third-party run by Paul: Perot wanted to fix government, while Paul wants to toss the parts he believes aren't working. Though GOP presidential candidate and former Louisiana Congressman Buddy Roemer has embraced a similar reform-minded platform while considering a third-party run, Paul's more libertarian stance has connected to a strong undercurrent of anti-establishment sentiment that's far more amplified than it was 20 years ago.
In Posner's view, Paul's approach is the next logical step after Perot's run yielded a handful of balanced budgets during the Clinton years, but not much since.
"That's the frustration level now after 20 years, that since it hasn't gotten fixed it can't get fixed," Posner says. "I think Obama's presidency has done that, especially among a lot of young people who felt he wasn't part of the system, and the fact that things haven't been shaken up indicates it can't get fixed -- so just throw it out. Of course, that's not the answer."
We spoke with Barta and Posner at length at different points leading up to the 20th anniversary of Perot's run and discussed candidate Perot, his legacy two decades later and the possibility of another third-party upstart in the current economic and political climate. While many of the issues Perot addressed remain, Barta and Posner agree that few of this year's candidates would refer to our nation's debt as Perot did: "A crazy aunt we keep down in the basement. All the neighbors know she's there, but nobody wants to talk about her":