Rick Perry – remember him? – has found a way to get himself noticed in this deliciously scintillating Summer of The Donald. He’s garnering scads of attention by savaging The Donald.
With Trump careening through the Republican shop like an untethered bull, most of the Republican candidates have struggled to cut through the clutter. Scott Walker and John Kasich announced their candidacies during the past week, but both were trumped by Trump. Jeb Bush said something this week about promising to change the tone of Washington (his brother vowed the same thing), but he was trumped by Trump. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie – it’s like they’ve disappeared, thanks to Trump. So perhaps the only way to avoid being trumped by Trump is to engage with Trump, to thump Trump, to leverage some attention by feeding off Trump.
Which is precisely Perry’s strategy, and he’s pushing it to the max. As a Trump-thumper, he outpaces all his rivals (including Lindsey Graham, who calls Trump “a jackass”). Here’s what Perry said in a speech yesterday:
“Donald Trump the candidate is a sower of division, wrongly demonizing Mexican-Americans for political sport. He has piqued the interest of some Republican voters who have legitimate concerns about a porous border and broken immigration system. But instead of offering those voters leadership or solutions, he has offered fear and sound bites. This cannot stand….
“The White House has been occupied by giants. But, from time to time, it is sought by the small-minded – divisive figures propelled by anger and appealing to the worst instincts in the human condition. He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued. Let no one be mistaken: Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.”
Granted, Perry is a tad desperate – his ’12 campaign was a disaster, he’s getting four percent of Republican voters, he risks being excised from the Fox News Aug. 6 debate and consigned to the kiddie table – but he’s not wrong. Granted, Perry figures that his only choice at this point is to carve out a market niche as Trump’s most outspoken critic – but at least somebody in that party is drawing a line in the sand. At least somebody in that party is telling Trump, “Yuh fye-ud.” Like yesterday, when Perry said this:
“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.”
OK, maybe his Whig reference was too strong. But the GOP seems destined in ’16 to lose the national popular vote for the sixth time in seven elections, and it does little to inspire public confidence when it devolves into a freak show. Which is what we’re seeing now. The party that reveres Ronald Reagan has gone to war with Reagan’s so-called 11th Commandment (“Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican”), and one cannot help but rubberneck at the multicar wreckage.
As best I can determine – so many skirmishes, so little time – the Trump-Perry hostilities commenced eight days ago, when Trump said that Perry should be forced to take an IQ test as a prequisite for his inclusion in the Fox News debate. A few days later, after Trump said that John McCain wasn’t a war hero, Perry defended McCain by saying that Trump’s remark rendered him unfit to be commander-in-chief. Then, two days ago, Trump again suggested that Perry is dumb: “He put on glasses so people will think he’s smart, and it just doesn’t work…People can see through the glasses.” Whereupon Perry retweeted Trump’s tweeted praise for Perry in 2012: “He’s a terrific guy with a great record.” Whereupon Trump retailiated yesterday with this new tweet: “Governor Perry in my office last cycle playing nice and begging for my support and money. Hypocrite!”
What is this, high school?
But hey, the social media stats show that Perry’s tussles with Trump have finally put Perry on the radar screen. It’s great that somebody has called out Trump for who and what he is, but it’s pathetic that a second-tier candidate’s best route to relevance is to feed off the demagogue. Alas, this is what passes for smart politics in the Summer of The Donald.
By the way: Let’s not forget how Trump was oh so beautifully stiletto-sliced by the man in charge at the ’11 White House Correspondents Dinner. Panicked Republicans should watch this video for rhetorical tips. Obama shows how it’s done. (“Well played, sir. Well played.”)