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BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Third-Party Dynamic BY DAVE DENISON Three’s a Crowd: The Dynamic of Third Parties, Ross Perot, and Republican Resurgence By Ronald B. Rapoport and Walter J. Stone University of Michigan Press 336 pages, $29.95 I:Z emember the poli tics of the 1990s? Was there really such a time when Americans were asked to join a move ment against runaway budget deficits and NAFTA and “politics as usual”? Was there such a character as Ross Perot let loose on the national scene? A billionaire who talked about cleaning out the barn and getting up under the hood to fix the American engine and said that after 45 years of worrying about the Red Army our new “number one preoccupation” was red ink? For a fleeting moment there was something called the Reform Party. A lot of serious people turned their attention to “third-party politics.” How long ago it all seems now. Indeed, the nation’s mood has changed so dramatically in the last year that it takes a moment to wrap your mind around the subtitle of this book. Third parties and Perot and Republicans? How do they fit together? And what is this “Republican resurgence” of which you speak? Oh yeah. Not too long ago Republicans came to control all three branches of the federal government. There was a resurgence in there somewhere, I guess. It is the novel theory of political scientists Ronald B. Rapoport and Walter J. Stone that Perot had much to do with the ever-improving fortunes of the GOP as the 1990s played out. \(Disclosure: Rapoport, a professor at the College of William and Mary, is also the son of longtime Observer backer Bernard Rapoport, a proud parent and founder of the American Income Life Insurance Co. book club, which highly recommends this book! Stone is a professor Building on the work of those who have studied the effects of third-party movements on the two major parties, Rapoport and Stone identify a consistent “dynamic of third parties” and make the case that Perot’s two presidential campaigns fit the dynamic pretty well. Quoting the eminent historian Richard Hofstadter, the authors note that third parties \(by which they mean minor-party challenges or independent and then they die. Perot’s efforts carried more sting than most such campaigns and his movement had more staying power. When Perot ran for president in 1992 he ended up with almost 19 percent of the vote. In his second run in 1996 he won only 8.4 percent. The 1992 showing is second only to Teddy Roosevelt’s 27.5 percent in 1912. And, the authors note, “Perot’s was the first third-party movement to attract more than 5 percent of the vote in two successive presidential elections since the Republican Party emerged to supplant the Whigs” in the 1850s. So something was going on. Rapoport and Stone make a persuasive case that the significance of the Perot movement has not been well understood. The conventional wisdom among media pundits and scholars was that Perot did what he did because he was willing to spend so much of his money. The authors argue that Perot’s success was due to “his ability to mobilize hundreds of thousands of volunteer activists who collected petition signatures to enable him to get his name on the ballot.” For a political upstart to get on the ballot in all 50 states, as Perot monumental undertaking. In Perot’s first run, when he made regular appearances on the Larry King show declaring he would be a candidate only if “the people” demanded it, the response led to a genuine grassroots surge. The petition drives “became not only a hurdle but an opportunity to generate a show of support and mobilize volunteers,” the authors say. Ultimately, Perot submitted 5.3 million signatures across the 50 states. Rapoport and Stone began studying this movement from the git-go. In the summer of 1992, the authors were granted access by Perot headquarters to a computer file of more than 500,000 namesindividuals who had called a toll-free number for information on volunteering for Perot. They later conducted a survey of a randomly selected group of these individuals to gain better insight into their motivations and opinions. By recontacting their 1992 respondents after the 1994, 1996, and 2000 elections they were able to understand the rise and fall of the Perot movement and to trace its impacts on the wider political developments of the 1990s. There is much quantitative analysis of this data that will be interesting to political scientists. I don’t pretend here to assess their use of data and their data-driven conclusions. But this is a clearly written, workmanlike book and it makes a surprising claimone that has perhaps become even more interesting in light of current partisan turbulence. The authors contend that Perot’s 1992 campaign set in motion events that “changed the political landscape in farreaching and long-lasting ways.” And the major result of all that volunteer effort and all those millions spent by Perot on organization and infomercials was to bolster the electoral fortunes of the Republican Party. This may seem, at first, counterintuitive. After all, the initial effect of the 1992 campaign seemed to be to take enough votes away from George H.W. Bush to allow Bill Clinton to be elected. That put Clinton in place to run as an incumbent in a time of prosperity and to win again in 1996. But in the 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 10, 2006