Clinton vs. Perot

April 04, 1993

Could the headline above be the lineup for the 1996 race? After what Ross Perot had to say last year about dirt-dredgers in the Republican Party, it would take quite a gulp for the GOP to swallow the Texas billionaire as its candidate for president next time out. But consider. If the GOP presidential primaries were starting right now, Mr. Perot would likely blow any other Republican prospect out of the water -- if he chose to run.

Consider, too, some of Mr. Perot's recent maneuvers. He has deliberately provoked President Clinton by lambasting just about everything coming out of the White House. He has met secretly with Republican members of the House Budget Committee before launching criticisms of the administration economic plan that closely track the current GOP onslaught. Still an independent, he is barnstorming the country to drum up membership for his quasi-political party, United We Stand, America, and is drawing big crowds almost everywhere.

When Mr. Perot was in Baltimore Wednesday to address the American Society of Newspaper Editors, he repeated his disclaimer of presidential ambition, but his switcheroos are the stuff of legend.

The disappearance of any pretense of civility between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Perot is the most telling evidence of the Texan's political agenda. His attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement ("I don't see how we can salvage that sucker"), the president's economic plan ("another hot air balloon"), administration approval of British Airways purchase of 19.9 percent of USAir ("the world's dumbest airline deal"), Attorney General Janet Reno's firing of the Republican U.S. attorneys ("That did not sell well in grassroots America") were minor compared to his raw rubbing of Mr. Clinton's strained relations with the military.

After Mr. Perot, during his appearance here, said the president ought to apologize to a high-ranking general who was insulted by a White House aide, Mr. Clinton told the editors in Annapolis the next day Mr. Perot should be ashamed for "rumor-mongering." They exchanged liar charges.

What must concern the White House is the way Mr. Perot appeals to different Democratic constituencies -- conservatives who dislike the stimulus package and liberals in organized labor and environmental groups who oppose the trade treaty with Mexico. By taking on the president, he gives credence as well to Republican attacks.

All this, before Mr. Clinton has completed the first hundred days of his 1,461-day term.

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