Ron Paul: A Texas Thorn in Rick Perry's Side

Ron Paul: A Texas Thorn in Rick Perry's Side

By Scott Conroy - September 15, 2011

Rick Perry and Ron Paul are both Republicans from Texas. Other than that, the two contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have little in common, and their shared party affiliation and state of residence have done nothing to bring them closer.

Whereas Perry is charismatic, smooth and has been a fixture of the Texas political establishment for decades, Paul is blunt, intentionally unpolished, and eager to highlight his frequent departures from party convention.

The two men can’t even agree on whether they’d met before Perry’s first presidential debate earlier this month. Paul said that they had not, while the Perry campaign begs to differ.

“They had met previously,” Perry spokesperson Mark Miner told RealClearPolitics, noting that the Texas governor recalled hosting a meeting earlier in his term with the Texas congressional delegation, which he says Paul attended.

Paul has been particularly eager to contrast himself with Perry in style and substance over the past couple of weeks, and the Republican front-runner has not shied away from responding in kind.

After Perry entered the race last month, Paul denigrated his fellow Texan for being a “candidate of the week” and suggested that Republicans would sour on him once his record was scrutinized more closely. Then Paul released a TV ad in which he called his rival “Al Gore’s cheerleader,” in reference to Perry’s 1988 endorsement of the Democrat.

Despite having bigger political fish to fry at the moment in the form of Mitt Romney, Perry engaged Paul directly in his first GOP debate by noting that the congressman had left the Republican Party in 1987 to run as a Libertarian candidate in the 1988 presidential race.

The two Texans got into it even further at Monday’s CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Tampa when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Paul whether Perry deserved credit for the state’s job growth.

"I'm a taxpayer there," Paul said in immediately personalizing his answer. "My taxes have gone up. Our taxes have doubled since he’s been in office. Our spending has gone up double. Our debt has gone up nearly triple. So no, and 170,000 of the jobs [created] were government jobs, so I would put a little damper on this, but I don't want to offend the governor because he might raise my taxes or something."

Paul’s eagerness to take Perry on -- and Perry’s willingness to oblige him -- has created a dynamic in which the three-term governor may be in danger of taking his eye off the ball, with Romney standing by and watching it unfold.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said that one consequence of GOP hegemony in Texas is that some of the state’s most deep-seated political antipathies are between Republicans.

“From 30,000 feet, they would seem like natural allies, but from the beginning, Paul’s presence has been an irritant to the Perry campaign,” Henson said. “I think part of the ethic of the Perry campaign is that they like a good fight. Up to this point, they’ve been good at it, and it’s part of their public and self-image that they don’t shy away from a fight. They’re certainly willing to declare victory and exit the battlefield at the most advantageous point, but the campaign’s approach is reflexively scrappy.”

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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