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Donald Trump for president? Some lessons from other tycoons.

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Scott Campbell/AP

(Read caption) Developer/ reality show star/ general celebrity Donald Trump says he might run for president. 'For the first time in my life I’m actually thinking about it,' he told Fox News in early October.

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Developer/ reality show star/ general celebrity Donald Trump says he might run for president. That’s what he told Fox News in early October, anyway.

“For the first time in my life I’m actually thinking about it,” said The Donald.

Does this mean he’s forgotten his previous flirtations with the Oval Office, such as his 2000 exploration into running on a Reform Party ticket? Not that it really matters – most good politicians have a knack for reinvention. We wish he’d run. A Trump campaign would be great copy.

But the floating of this particular trial balloonlet got us thinking: How many businessmen have run for president without any intervening political experience?

There’s Ross Perot, of course. The Texas computer billionaire and his dire warnings about the federal deficit are hard to forget. He was sort of a one-man “tea party” before there were tea parties fulminating about government waste. Mr. Perot’s 1992 third-party bid is one of the most successful independent campaigns ever, receiving 19 percent of the popular vote even though at one point he briefly withdrew from the race.

But Wendell Willkie may be the business executive who came closest to what might be Trump’s dream: a jump straight from corporate life to a major party nomination.

In his day, Willkie was Trumpishly famous. An Indiana-born lawyer and utility executive, he was a forceful proponent of private enterprise in the face of what he saw as New Deal interference. The columnist Drew Pearson said that for “sheer force of personality and character I believe Willkie makes the greatest impact of any man I’ve ever talked to.”

At the 1940 Republican Convention in Philadelphia, Willkie beat out professional politicians such as Thomas Dewey for the nomination after six tense ballots.

Then he got clocked by Franklin D. Roosevelt, 449 electoral votes to 82. With Europe in flames, voters weren’t looking for someone to make the New Deal run better. But to this day, Willkie remains the only major party nominee who was never an elected politician, a cabinet officer, or high military official.

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Your move, Mr. Trump.


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