IN case the new Republicans in Congress get too cocky, Ross Perot is stirring restlessly behind them.
Already, his United We Stand America organization shows signs of gearing up toward establishing a new political party.
The UWSA is probing state laws on entering a new political party in Iowa - site of the first presidential caucuses. And the UWSA chapter there has recently been outfitted to organize the state down to the precinct level.
Last week, Mr. Perot vowed to found a new party if Congress passed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The 22,000-page agreement for cutting world trade barriers passed the House on Tuesday. The Senate votes today.
The leadership in both Republican and Democratic parties backs GATT, which Perot sees as a threat to US sovereignty.
Perot and UWSA remain a force in US politics, even though polls indicate that Perot himself no longer has strong support from independent voters.
These voters, who helped fuel the GOP wildfire on Nov. 8, were protesting ``a government that doesn't work and political hypocrisy,'' says Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns & Elections. Should the GOP fail to deliver its promised reforms, Mr. Faucheux predicts a massive move by independents to a third party, with ``devastation'' for the GOP.
On the other hand, the chance of a third party growing to rival the Democrats and the GOP is ``laughable,'' says Gary Nordlinger, a Democratic media consultant. ``The structural obstacles are so great.''
Mr. Nordlinger says the GOP will be fine if it tackles welfare and health care and takes steps to clean up Congress, like getting rid of $20,000-a-year elevator operators in the automatic elevators. But if the GOP majority does nothing or veers into social issues, he says, in 1996 voters will simply choose nonincumbent, major-party candidates rather than a third-party option.
``There is a third party out there,'' argues Kevin Phillips, publisher of The American Political Report. But he perceives it as more of a third ``force'' capable of producing a presidential ticket but no down-ballot candidates.
The Libertarian Party, founded in 1971, holds 130 state and local offices. But they are not a ``serious force,'' Mr. Phillips says. Libertarians win ``when the Republican died three weeks before and the Democrat is in jail.''
Libertarian spokesmen counter that, while they were steamrollered by the GOP like everyone else, their percentages generally improved and they are learning to present their message more professionally. The election also validated the notion of getting the government out of citizens' wallets and personal lives, which is generally what Libertarians espouse, they say.
The odds are good that the next presidential election will feature not just two, but three or even four significant candidates, Phillips says. Gen. Colin Powell and Jesse Jackson are names in current circulation.
Then there's Perot, the Dallas billionaire whose independent candidacy for president in 1992 galvanized voters hungry for an alternative to the two major parties. Receiving nearly 20 percent of the vote, Perot went on to found UWSA.
Perot did not actually say he would run for president on the new party's ticket. That, Mr. Phillips says, is a crucial distinction. Founding a party ``doesn't mean anything until he puts his name and his wallet up there,'' he says.
A second Perot try would be a breakthrough for an independent candidate, he adds. Such a party would likely feature a few congressional candidates as well.
Russ Verney, interim director of UWSA in Dallas, insists that no steps are being taken yet to form a new party. Perot is still hoping that Congress will not ``ramrod'' GATT through this lame-duck session, but will give the treaty full debate, make it fully amendable, and strip out ``special-interest spending'' next year, Verney says.
Meanwhile, at the national office's request, the Iowa chapter of UWSA already has a committee looking into state laws on forming a party, says state director Jim Hennager.
``You can read that any way you want,'' Mr. Hennager says, but in his estimation, ``we're gearing up for '96.''