MSNBC's Steve Kornacki lays out the scenario: a rich businessman runs for President of the United States because of America's massive debt, promising to operate the country like a business. The establishment is corrupt, and middle-class white America is suffering from a recent recession. The voters are angry at the last president and want to throw all the bums out.
It should definitely sound familiar today, but the year was 1992. The billionaire in question was Texan Ross Perot.
Despite what his critics say is a Perot predilection for falsehoods and conspiracy theories, millions of voters believed he was the only candidate telling them the truth about their country -- and they have a point. No other politician in this era has vaulted to prominence by insisting that the nation must swallow such horrid medicines as he has prescribed -- higher taxes for everybody and drastic reductions in popular government programs.
John Jay Hooker, a Perot friend with whom the billionaire has frequently discussed political plans, said Perot has stated many times his intention to keep banging away on issues of the deficit and the economy's long-term decline.
"He'll never give up on this," said Hooker, a liberal former newspaper publisher from Nashville. "He believes the country's problems are malignant, so how can he go home and twiddle his thumbs?"
People around Perot have discussed a number of ways he could stay active. One is for him to act as spokesman, and for his supporters to act as a permanent pressure group, urging reduction of the $4 trillion national debt.
Perot most likely will take on the guise of a business-minded Jesse L. Jackson, a critic without portfolio. He could join retiring Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) and former senator Paul E. Tsongas (D-Mass.) in raising the deficit issue. But his supporters are unlikely to stay together unless Perot commits himself to keeping the coalition permanent.
Unlike, say, the evangelical movement, his is a movement without a set of bedrock principles. His supporters are from the left, the right, from both parties -- they agree only that Perot is their leader.
He has refused to answer whether he would run again in 1996. While he appeared to relish the adulation he received campaigning, he hated being questioned by the press. It was all new to him.
He had never run for office before and, in fact, he had said many times he is "temperamentally unfit" for government.
We dodged a bullet 25 years ago. Last year we were not so lucky. We failed to learn the lessons of Perot's 1992 and 1996 runs, or rather, the Democrats did. The Republicans learned the lessons of Perot's outsider run all too well.
This year saw the kinds of tough economic times, and Perot led the kind of spontaneous and combustible movement, that under different circumstances might have given itself to a ghastly demagoguery or a politics of racial division.
Jim Squires, who served as Perot's spokesman in the first aborted phase of the campaign, said the nation is fortunate that the man who became the lightning rod for much of America's discontent this year was Perot -- and not a demagogue who would play on racial fears or other divisive antipathies.
"The next time the man on the white horse comes, he may not be so benign," Squires said. "He could be a real racial hater or a divider of people."
And so here we are today. Welcome to the nightmare sequel Squires warned us about.