Jabs at Clinton are hit with public

PEROT TRIES OUT THE ROLE OF THE SPOILER

May 30, 1993|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- With a travel schedule that criss-crosses the country and self-promotion that just won't quit, Ross Perot appears to be waging the world-class campaign he never had.

More than half a year after his quixotic presidential bid landed the independent candidate with a third-place showing and a healthy 19 million votes, he's kept up -- even stepped up -- his visibility, his clout, his coalition-building, and most of all, his bite.

This time around, he shows no signs of quitting. Without press scrutiny, without debates, he rides around on his jet and on the hopes of voters who still like the sound of his voice.

Behind the scenes, his "volunteers," including paid coordinators in every state, are scrambling to build up his political organization, United We Stand, America, a movement he repeatedly touts as a grass-roots, "bottom-up" operation, even as more and more disenchanted members and leaders describe it as a Dallas-run dictatorship.

For or against?

Exactly what the Texas billionaire is campaigning for, besides continued clout and influence, is less clear these days than what he is campaigning against.

At nearly every stop -- from his rallies in places like Wichita, Kan., to recruit members for United We Stand, to his prime-time infomercials like the one that airs tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC -- the self-appointed watchdog takes a chunk out of President Clinton.

In the last several weeks, he has increased his anti-Clinton vitriol, giving it the kind of sting he reserved for George Bush during last year's race.

Seizing on Mr. Clinton's recent missteps and popularity plunge, Mr. Perot has been everywhere lately, highlighting the president's stumbles and moving closer and closer to declaring him a complete failure.

The more the president blunders, the more Ross Perot blusters.

He sat in his barber's chair for TV cameras recently and got his usual bargain cut to poke fun at Mr. Clinton's $200 trim.

Joining in the criticism of Mr. Clinton as Hollywood groupie, he told David Frost in an interview that aired on PBS Friday night that the average working American can't relate to a president who's got "a different movie star in the White House every night."

Far more lethal, the billionaire businessman said in the Frost interview that Mr. Clinton was so inexperienced and ill-prepared for the presidency that "if you were interviewing him for your company, and you had a medium-sized company, you wouldn't consider giving him a job anywhere above middle management."

He prefaced his remarks by saying, "What we have here is a person who does not have the background or experience for the most difficult job in the world."

The Frost interview capped a week of zingers from Mr. Perot's slingshot.

In an interview on CNN Thursday, he said the president's actions were "self destructive" -- "He hasn't gotten organized . . . and he has a staff whose inexperience level exceeds his."

Two years from now, if Mr. Clinton continues on his present course, Mr. Perot predicted, "he will be so damaged and the country will be so damaged his career will be over."

That morning, he had charged the administration with trying to ram its economic plan through Congress as "a test of manhood. . . . It's a macho thing."

He's called the health care reform plan a "catastrophe," even though it has not yet been unveiled, and Mr. Clinton's proposed deficit trust fund "a joke."

In light of such relentless beatings, the Clinton administration has quit wooing the former presidential hopeful as it had done earlier this year.

The White House has finally conceded that, as Mr. Perot might say, the two will never sing from the same sheet of music.

'Desperate for attention'

"Mr. Perot just strikes me as one of these folks just desperate for attention," Clinton adviser Paul Begala said Thursday, responding to Mr. Perot's comments. "He's just one of these folks who, when he goes to a wedding, he wants to be the bride. When he goes to a funeral, he wants to be the corpse. He just wants to be the center of attention."

Most political strategists believe Mr. Perot just wants to be president, despite his protestations that he'd rather bungee jump without the cord, and is laying the groundwork for a run in 1996.

Republican strategist Frank Luntz, a former pollster for Mr. Perot, said he originally didn't think the Texan was thinking about another go at it in '96.

"I do now," he says emphatically. "I saw his travel schedule. It looks like a candidate's. His schedule is more political and better targeted than those of [likely GOP candidates] Jack Kemp, Phil Gramm and Bob Dole combined."

The post-election Perot has, so far, made 41 appearances in nearly two dozen states -- far more than he did during the campaign -- with more than a dozen scheduled for the next two weeks, including a mid-June rally in Maryland.

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