Will Perry Rise With Anti-Trump Crusade?

Will Perry Rise With Anti-Trump Crusade?
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Rick Perry arrived in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, gunning for a fight with Donald Trump, calling the real estate tycoon’s candidacy “a cancer on conservatism” that “must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded” lest it destroy the Republican Party.

During a speech at a forum hosted by the pro-Perry Opportunity and Freedom PAC, Perry coined “Trumpism” as “a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.” Perry’s attacks on Trump were broad — charging him with stoking negativity, nativism and division — even as Perry conceded Trump’s raw appeal to Republican voters on immigration.

“He has piqued the interest of some Republican voters who have legitimate concerns about a porous border and broken immigration system,” Perry said. “But instead of offering those voters leadership or solutions, he has offered fear and sound bites. This cannot stand.”

The speech has been on Perry’s calendar for a few weeks, but the timing could hardly have been more potent, coming just days after Trump suggested during a summit in Iowa that Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, should not be called a “hero.” 

The comment stoked widespread controversy, but Trump did not apologize — and most Republican candidates have jumped to condemn it, with Perry even calling for Trump to withdraw from the race. Perry heightened his criticism further Wednesday, saying Trump “couldn’t have endured for five minutes what John McCain endured for five and a half years.”

“But most telling to me is not Mr. Trump’s bombast, his refusal to show any remorse for his comments about Sen. McCain, but his admission that there is not a single time in his life that he sought the forgiveness of God,” Perry said, alluding to another remark Trump made Saturday in Iowa. “A man too arrogant, too self-absorbed to seek God’s forgiveness is precisely the type of leader John Adams prayed would never occupy the White House.”

History shows that Trump will likely push back hard against Perry’s remarks. On Tuesday, Trump disclosed Sen. Lindsey Graham’s personal cell phone number during a televised event, as retribution for Graham having called Trump a “jackass.” 

In advance of Perry’s speech Wednesday, the pushback had already begun: Trump tweeted out a photo of himself standing with the former Texas governor in Trump’s Manhattan office.

“@GovernorPerry in my office last cycle playing nice and begging for my support and money,” Trump wrote. “Hypocrite!”

A spokeswoman for Trump declined further comment.

The attention so far from Trump does not appear to have fazed Perry or his campaign; indeed, it might be an aptly timed boon. While Trump leads in national polling, the RealClearPolitics polling average shows Perry ranking 10th among Republicans, precariously close to being eliminated from the main Fox News debate Aug. 6. With Trump comes media attention, which could help secure a spot on the stage for Perry. 

Perry’s campaign has insisted his speech Wednesday is about more than that: that it is the “right thing to do,” as his campaign manager Jeff Miller put it, not merely the most politically advantageous.

But Perry’s rhetoric Wednesday was certainly attention grabbing, equating Trump with the Know-Nothing Party of the mid-19th century and its anti-Catholic bent.

“These people built nothing, created nothing. They existed to cast blame and tear down certain institutions. To give outlet to anger,” Perry said. “Donald Trump is the modern-day incarnation of the know-nothing movement.” 

Although Republican candidates for president have begun to criticize Trump en masse in the aftermath of his remarks on McCain, the party overall has been slow to speak up. Some Republicans are still backing Trump, including Sen. Ted Cruz, perhaps because Trump boasts a base of supporters that could be ripe for the taking should the business magnate’s campaign fizzle.

Perry, however, has been fiercely critical of Trump since his announcement speech, when he characterized Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” Perry called that remark “offensive.”

“I, for one, will not be silent when a candidate for the high office of president runs under the Republican banner by targeting millions of Hispanics, and our veterans, with mean-spirited vitriol,” Perry said Wednesday. “I will not go quiet when this cancer on conservatism threatens to metastasize into a movement of mean-spirited politics that will send the Republican Party to the same place it sent the Whig Party in 1854: the graveyard.” 

The brutality of Perry’s remarks Wednesday reflect a growing urgency within the Republican Party to quash Trump’s bid before it incurs lasting damage to the party’s brand.

"I'm sure the Republicans are enjoying Mr. Trump's current dominance as the front-runner," President Obama joked Tuesday on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart.

Most troublingly for Republicans, Trump’s candidacy threatens to unravel the work the GOP has done since the 2012 election to reconfigure its message and policies to appeal more to minorities. 

“Donald Trump the reality television star is a great generator of ratings,” Perry added. “But Donald Trump the candidate is a sower of division, wrongly demonizing Mexican-Americans for political sport.”

Such rhetoric, Perry argued, is intrinsically at odds with the office of the presidency, which he said “has been occupied by giants.”

But from time to time, Perry added, “it is sought by the small-minded — divisive figures propelled by anger, and appealing to the worst instincts in the human condition." 

By contrast, Perry hoped to establish himself as the opposite sort of candidate, an adult in the room, with a speech equal parts indignant and incredulous — even at times, in the Trump style, over the top. 

“When a candidate under the Republican banner would abandon the tradition of magnanimous leadership of the presidency, when he would seek to demonize millions of citizens, when he would stoop to attack POWs for being captured, I can only ask, as Senator Welch did of Senator McCarthy, ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir?’” Perry said.

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.


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