Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday went further than any other Republican candidate in blasting Donald Trump, defining “Trumpism” as its own ideology that poses an existential threat to not just the Republican Party, but the broader conservative movement.
Contrasting Trump with the great presidents of previous centuries, the former Texas governor said Trumpism was no more than “a barking carnival act” and “a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense”.
“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,” said Perry.
“It cannot be pacified or ignored, for it will destroy a set of principles that has lifted more people out of poverty than any force in the history of the civilized world – the cause of conservatism,” he said.
Two weeks before the first scheduled GOP presidential debate – that Perry may not be polling high enough to participate in the former governor has emerged as one of Trump’s sharpest critics. The businessman has topped recent national polls and upheaved the Republican presidential race so far this summer.
His remarks at a Washington hotel followed a policy forum hosted by the operatives who run a $17 million super PAC – and who took pains Wednesday to avoid much mingling with the campaign operatives who must remain independent of their influence. Yet the speech Wednesday functioned as a forum to lob abrasive and piercing indictments of Trump’s character.
“My fellow Republicans, beware of false prophets. Do not let itching ears be tickled by messengers who appeal to anger, division and resentment,” the former Texas governor said.
Perry’s gambit is not without risk: One-quarter of Republican voters said in the most recent national poll that Trump was their first-choice candidate. But his allies see more upside by taking it to the candidate who a record of likely Republican voters say they could never support.
Perry argued that men like Trump would degrade the White House and American history. Linking the real estate mogul to the nativists of the past and to the bluster of McCarthyism, Perry portrayed his Republican rival as the return to an uglier branding of the right.
He hit Trump on each impolitic remark that has won him scorn from different elements of the Republican coalitions.
On calling some Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists: “He scapegoats Hispanics to appeal to our worst instincts.”
On questioning aloud whether Sen. John McCain was a war hero: “Donald Trump was born into privilege. He received deferments to avoid service in Vietnam.”
And on indicating that God is not a major part of his life: “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.”
Perry’s supporters say they’re behind his new political persona as a Trump foil.
“He had to. I don’t think there was any choice – that’s who he is. And Trump’s wrong.” said Doug Deason, whose billionaire father, Darwin, has so-far given the pro-Perry PAC $5 million.
“If he does well in Iowa and continues to perform, there’s always a chance we’ll do more,” Deason said.