Rick Perry: "Trump-ism" isn't conservatism, it's a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense

The hardest shot yet at Trump from a fellow candidate.

“Donald Trump continues to demonstrate his fundamental misunderstanding of border security. Make no mistake – border security is a federal responsibility, but when I met with President Obama last year and it became clear he would not act, I told him if he would not secure the border, Texas would. Rather than thanking Texas for stepping into a gap it shouldn’t have to fill, Mr. Trump has made clear that he believes the states should fend for themselves on border security. Not only is this wrong, it perpetuates the same failed policies that have left our southern border porous and vulnerable.

I have a message for my fellow Republicans and the independents who will be voting in the primary process: what Mr. Trump is offering is not conservatism, it is Trump-ism – a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.

America doesn’t need another president who pays lip service when issues of national security are at stake. America doesn’t need another president who will pass the buck on border security. We need a president who will finally act to secure the border after decades of failed leadership in Washington, D.C. And Mr. Trump has done nothing to prove that he is the president America needs.”

Lots of buzz on Twitter this afternoon from media types along these lines:

Perry’s been smacking Trump for the past two weeks. He went on Fox News on July 2nd, not long after Trump made his famous comment about rapists coming in from Mexico, to criticize him for his rhetoric. A week later, he posted a “video letter” to Trump on YouTube knocking him again and insisting that his views of Mexicans don’t represent the GOP. Now, a week after that, he’s dismissing Trump as a clown and a demagogue. The first debate is three weeks away and Perry’s currently 10th, right on the bubble for inclusion, in the RCP poll average. He’s searching for a way to put some distance between himself and the Santorums and Fiorinas of the world and a media war with Trump is, he figures, his best bet, assuming Trump finally takes the bait and starts swinging at him in forums more prominent than Twitter. This is part of the strategy too:

[I]n part thanks to Trump, Perry could be another candidate able to court Hispanic voters. Trump hurled a fireball into Perry’s court. Now it’s time for him to show us what he’s got. 

He could start by showing the GOP how he managed to maintain a hard-line border security stance without alienating Hispanic voters, a fine balance that gained him 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in his last bid for governor. Or he could help them understand that calling undocumented immigrants criminals is offensive, as he did in his response to Trump. Perry has consistently offered measured responses about immigration policy, proving that you can both advocate for strengthened borders and remember that you’re talking about human life.

Another benefit: Going after Trump creates a contrast with Ted Cruz, a rival for Texas donors and tea-party voters, who’s been hugging Trump lately in hopes of inheriting his voters once Trump quits the race. Perry’s grand plan here, I guess, is to make the debate, pick a fight with Trump onstage, get lots of Strange New Respect from the media and a bounce in the polls from conservative voters who dislike Trump, and hope that that lands him in the top tier with Bush, Rubio, and Walker. Success then breeds success. If he can edge past Cruz in the polls, he might end up being perceived by conservatives as their best shot against Jeb, which will boost his numbers further. And because he has the most obvious border cred of any of the contenders, he’s theoretically in a position to win over some Trump voters as the true immigration warrior in the field.

In reality, I think it’s more likely that the Strange New Respect will happen but most righty voters will shrug, either because they’re Trump fans and resent Perry’s criticism or because they dislike Trump yet prefer one of the many other Not Trumps in the field. (How do you go from “Rick Perry’s right about Trump” to “I’m backing Rick Perry for president”?) Trump himself will apparently be looking to turn the debates into a “Trump vs. Bush” headline, leaving Perry a forgotten man. Besides, I think Perry’s core assumption, that Trump’s popularity is due to his stance on immigration and therefore might be transferable to another border hawk like himself, is fundamentally wrong. Trump is polling well for two reasons: One is simple name recognition, the other is that he’s politically incorrect, and not just politically incorrect but politically incorrect about a topic that Beltway Republicans have been straining for years to make the party “correct” about. Perry’s right that Trump’s conservatism is an inch deep, but by pitting himself against the politically incorrect guy on immigration, I think he risks righties overlooking his own record on the border to lump him in with all the other D.C. RINOs who are desperate for amnesty. Hope I’m wrong about that.