Trump mania continues to ravage summer coverage of the GOP, pushing all candidates off the air to focus on the twice-divorced Casino Tycoon turned TV host turned the media-anointed symbol of conservatism.
Yet there are many problems with Trump as a presidential candidate. Rick Perry laid many of them out clearly in a speech Tuesday. He began by talking about the challenges we face as a nation starting with a series of serious problems in foreign policy:
Gathering threats abroad are matched by storm clouds at home.
The recovery is anemic, leaving millions of workers uncounted in the unemployment rate. One in ten workers are unemployed, under-employed or too discouraged to search for a job. One in seven Americans live in poverty, including more than one quarter of our African-American population that has suffered for decades under Democratic policies that lead to failed schools, few opportunities, and lives lost to poverty or crime.
Our debt is at historic levels. President Obama is on course to racking up as much debt as his 43 predecessors combined.
Our border is under siege, our infrastructure is aging, our entitlement programs are in fiscal jeopardy.
Perry doesn’t think the country’s problems are impossible to solve, we’ve faced worse, but we’ve overcome it with great leadership:
When King George the 3rd inquired what George Washington would do upon winning the war, he was told he would return to his Virginia farm.
To which the king responded, “if he were to do so, he would be the greatest man of his age.”
Thousands of years of history had informed the world that to the victor go the spoils, that conquering heroes seize power and reign with impunity. But George Washington reluctantly accepted the presidency, only after the Constitution had been written, guaranteeing power to the people.
And because of his humility – because he never wavered from his revolutionary principles – ours was the first nation to be founded on an idea: that all “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Even great antagonists, like Adams and Jefferson, in later life were able to put differences aside, exchanging letters until the day they both died.
It was Adams who wrote a prayer about the presidency to his wife Abigail, saying, “May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof…”
In more recent years we were blessed to have in the Oval Office the quiet strength of Harry Truman, the leadership of the Supreme Commander Dwight David Eisenhower, the inspiration of John F Kennedy, the vision and resolve of Ronald Reagan.
Perry’s appreciation for America’s history and for those who guided it through its most troubled times is apparent. However, his point is to draw a contrast to make the point that:
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.
In times of trouble, there are two types of leaders: repairers of the breach and sowers of discord.
The sower of discord foments agitation, thrives on division, scapegoats certain elements of society, and offers empty platitudes and promises. He is without substance when one scratches below the surface.
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.
Perry’s point is that in times of crisis America has called on great people who bring us together: Washington, Lincoln, and Reagan. And there are people who think Trump is in that class. Really? Perry highlights something that seems to be lost in the Republican Primary process.
But Rick Perry was not done, not by a longshot. He then took aim at Trump’s remarks on John McCain’s war service and general arrogance:
As a veteran, I took offense to his attack on Senator McCain, and I found lacking his defense that he spent a lot of money on veterans’ parades.
Donald Trump was born into privilege. He received deferments to avoid service in Vietnam. He breathes the free air thousands of heroes died protecting. And he couldn’t have endured for five minutes what John McCain endured for five and a half years.
Think what you want about Senator McCain’s politics, but let no one question his service to our country.
Here was a man offered the chance to go home. He refused, knowing it could cost him his life. There was no way he would leave before any man captured before him. This is the embodiment of duty, honor, country. Mr. Trump does not know the meaning of those words.
But most telling to me is not Mr. Trump’s bombast, his refusal to show any remorse for his comments about Senator McCain, but his admission that there is not a single time in his life that he sought the forgiveness of God.
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.
It’s a devastating, sharp, and mostly deserved criticism of Donald Trump’s campaign. Somewhere along the line, it seems people have forgotten that Donald Trump isn’t running to be a talk show host or guest. He’s running to be President of the United States, and merely being politically incorrect isn’t enough. We’re looking for wisdom, character, and humility. What Perry brings out is that Trump’s campaign has demonstrated none of that.
Perry’s speech is a brilliant piece of rhetoric. His attacks with Trump were peppered with his defense of conservatism and his own take on Obama’s record.. The whole thing is worth a read. However, it’s not without flaws.
The speech has two big problems with it. First, is something I’ve touched on previously. Perry reads far too much into Trump’s original comments on immigration suggesting that Trump “It is wrong to paint with a broad brush Hispanic men and women in this country who have fought and died for freedom from the Alamo to Afghanistan.”
The problem? Trump never painted all Hispanics with a broad brush. In context, Trump was clearly referring to illegal aliens crossing the border. As I’ve said before, it was inartful and poorly said, but Donald Trump didn’t say what Rick Perry said he said.
Perry’s only attempt to address illegal immigration and to not painting everyone who has jumped on the Trump bandwagon as a racist refugee from the 1840s Know Nothing era is this line here, “He has piqued the interest of some Republican voters who have legitimate concerns about a porous border and broken immigration system.”
This was after eight paragraphs attacking Trump as a nativist, Perry then takes one sentence acknowledging there was a legitimate problem on the border. Trump’s statements distorted the picture. If there are twelve million illegal aliens in this country, the way Trump originally stated it, you’d believe there were eleven million rapists and murders in the lot. That’s absurd, but even if that number was a million or two hundred fifty-thousand additional undocumented criminals on the streets of America, that’s a huge problem. And the way Perry ignores this fact explains part of how Trump has risen to prominence and why many conservatives feel compelled to defend him despite his obvious flaws as a presidential candidate.
Finally, as brilliant as the speech was in its composition, I question its strategic wisdom. Perry is defining himself by his opposition to another candidate. While in the speech itself, Perry makes many points and advocates a positive vision but ultimately the headlines and leads for this speech sets Perry up as the anti-Trump. This would make sense if Trump were leading polls a month before the Caucuses and Perry close at his heels. However, the first contests are more than six months away. He’s acting as if Trump’s summer surge in some polls is significant and going to define the trajectory of the campaign.
Perry’s not alone in freaking out over Trump’s rise. In an election filled with promising conservatives with strong records of standing for our values, all the oxygen is being sucked out of the room by a man who seems so manifestly unqualified to be President, and with a history of contradictory statements and action that includes supporting abortion rights, national health care, Hillary Clinton, and criticizing Mitt Romney for being “maniacal” on immigration during the 2012 campaign.
Yet, historically mid-Summer surges by flawed candidates don’t last. Voters, particularly those in Iowa and New Hampshire, will not put up with arrogance for long. Facts that are obscure will become known. In past years, candidates with far less flaws have fallen back after an initial surge of public and media interest following their entry. The same is likely to happen with Trump. And if Trump finishes with 7% in Iowa, 12% in New Hampshire, and is uncompetitive everywhere else but Nevada, this speech will look overwrought for its apoplectic tone. Having taken so much effort to become the anti-Trump. If Trump falls back into the GOP pack, Perry’s anti-Trump efforts may make it difficult for Perry to communicate his own message to the Americanpeople.
At this point, wisest thing to do with Trump is to let this political nature take its course. This goes doubly for Rick Perry. He was a good governor and his speech shows the depth of his conservative convictions and thought. He’s right that America needs a leader with wisdom who will bring us together. However, if he wants a chance to be that leader, Perry must realize that if he runs an anti-Trump campaign, no matter what happens to Trump, Perry will lose.
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