The financial reform speech wasn’t the first time that Rick Perry had given a big speech that challenged conservatives as well as liberals. Earlier in the summer, before Trump took hold, Perry delivered an address on race and economic opportunity that was praised by liberals like The Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore for its frank admission that black Americans had understandable reasons for voting Democrat, and that Republicans hoping to win their votes would have to respond not only with rhetoric, but with policies designed to improve their lives. At the same time, the address was hailed by The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board as “the speech of the campaign so far.” The editorial praised Perry for laying out “a rationale and a specific agenda for how the GOP can earn—and deserve—the support of black Americans,” and for pointing to real-world evidence from Texas that his ideas could work. Writing at National Review, Yuval Levin called it “an ambitious and impressive performance” that he hoped would “[set] the tone for the coming campaign. “
This was the campaign that Rick Perry wanted to run—a campaign built on substance; a campaign that was not afraid to challenge certain conservative orthodoxies, but also did not respond by simply adopting watered down versions of liberal policies; a campaign that, at its best, could unite open-minded liberals and smart conservatives. And it was a campaign that, in a different race, might have at least helped nudge the GOP field in different, more substantive, direction. It might have helped set the tone.
But with so many candidates in the field, and Trump leading them all, it’s been difficult for a candidate like Perry to stand out. At the end of July, Donald Trump accounted for a whopping 50 percent of all evening network news election coverage. Coverage like that just doesn’t leave a lot of room for the other 16 candidates.