On Monday, the boat was further rocked when real estate mogul Donald Trump dropped his tentative bid for the Reform presidential nod, telling the "Today" show that the party is "self-destructing." So as the dust settles on this four-day upheaval, the Reform party, once billed as a populist political alternative, has left many supporters asking, alternative to what? Ventura, the highest official ever elected on a Reform party ticket, hinted that he was most dissuaded by Perot's backroom anointment of Pat Buchanan as presidential candidate. Ventura and many others in the party saw Trump as a more viable candidate, since Buchanan has alienated most voters with his right-wing rhetoric. So it was a particularly stinging blow when Trump, legendary for his negotiating skills, attacked the party, reasoning that it's impossible to negotiate within the Perot oligarchy. This highlights a harsh reality for Perot: If he doesn't loosen his grip on his party, we'll probably be looking at a two-party race in 2004, if not this November.
If this keeps up, the Reform party could soon be the WWF of politics an entertaining diversion that nobody takes very seriously. The party's top brass were meeting at the Nashville airport Marriott Saturday to forge a united front in time for its primary season, when, to borrow a term from professional wrestling, pandemonium broke loose. Nearly every speaker at the meeting was loudly told to shut up by one faction or another, and the police several times had to threaten to shut the whole thing down if the Reformistas didn't stop disturbing the neighbors. And this happened a day after former bad-guy wrestler Jesse Ventura bolted the party. On Friday Ventura painted a portrait of the party as a "dysfunctional family," with Perot as the tyrannical father figure who doesn't allow dissenters in his ranks. This view was buttressed Saturday, when a powerful Ventura ally in the party, chairman Jack Gargan, was dethroned. "You have a small group of power brokers in this party who won't let it grow nationally," said Ventura.