Texas Gov. Rick Perry, plainly enjoying himself, galvanized the tea party crowd at the Americans for Prosperity summit in Dallas on Friday. He reminded political watchers that while he is not as smooth and erudite as some politicians, he can energize a room and vary his pace and volume — from fiery applause lines to quiet and sober narrative to mischievous barbs.
His remarks, as prepared for delivery, on several topics were noteworthy. Playing in his home state, he played the Texas card, a preview of the campaign he is likely to run if he seeks the presidency in 2016:
Our common sense approach has delivered results time and again, and it’s why over the last 10-plus years, employment in Texas has grown at almost three times the pace of other large states. For 12-straight years we have led the nation in exports. And, as of January, we lead the nation in high-tech exports, surpassing California, home of the famous Silicon Valley. More people are moving to Texas than any other state in the nation. And they are not moving here because of the weather.
And that in turn led him to a compelling argument that stirred the pro-free market and anti-Beltway crowd: “In Texas, we do pretty well without Washington’s advice. Since I became governor, Texas has created 35 percent of all new, private sector jobs. Our recipe is pretty straight-forward. It’s pretty simple. We have kept taxes low; enacted smart regulations; cracked down on frivolous lawsuits; and required accountability from our schools.”
But he — and the crowd — really came alive when he addressed immigration. On that front he was unequivocal that “until the federal government meets that duty, and secures that border, all talk of immigration reform is pointless because Washington has no credibility on the matter. You earn credibility when you enforce the law, and you lose it when you don’t. Chaos is not the right condition for discussing long-term immigration policy.” That formulation is consistent with his willingness to talk about a permanent solution for illegal immigrants but also compatible with his attacks on federal indifference to the border crisis.
Perry then pivoted directly to foreign policy, where he has been hammering the president (and by implication isolationists on the right) for the mess in the Middle East and around the world. Here was quiet and sober, but a tea party crowd — portrayed by the MSM as isolationists — was plainly engaged and enthusiastic about his core message:
I am concerned about enforcing the rule of law at home, and I am concerned about terrorist enemies growing in strength overseas. Yesterday, the president admitted he had no strategy to deal with ISIS. This admission may have come as a surprise to the press and his supporters but it’s not a surprise to both our allies and adversaries around the world. The deepening chaos in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and Ukraine is all the clear and compelling evidence the world needs of a president one step behind, lurching from crisis to crisis, always playing catch up. . . .They have brought systemic brutality to Iraq, beheading men, raping women, and filling mass graves with those who do not conform to their evil ideology. Even the president’s secretary of Defense has labeled ISIS “an imminent threat to every interest we have.”
And he slammed the president on his approach to Russia. (“Compounding the crisis in the Middle East is Russian aggression in Ukraine. Mr. Putin has used energy as a weapon, silencing European neighbors. He has annexed Crimea. And now we see Russian soldiers coming across the border to fight alongside Ukrainian separatists. President Obama’s response has been to minimize the threat as if his words have the power to make it so.”) It was a clear refutation of the notion of leading from behind or the fantasy that we can retrench and leave the world to its own devices:
American leadership is needed now, more than ever. Presidential leadership is needed now, more than ever. ISIS is not the junior varsity. It is a clear and present danger to the free world, and Mr. President, peace of the world requires presidential decisiveness not dithering and debating. There used to be a bipartisan tradition in American foreign policy – a basic willingness to unite in fundamental matters of security. If anything is left of that old spirit, we need to draw on it in a big way, and right now. America must act to confront this evil, and we must act not because the price only goes up from here.
Nor was he the only rock star of the right to sound hawkish. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) left no doubt where he stands:
He began by mocking Obama for comments he made in a press briefing on Thursday that he does not have a strategy yet for confronting jihadists affiliated with the group Islamic State (or ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.
“I’m sure everyone was shocked to hear this,” said Cruz.
Cruz contrasted Obama’s approach with what he said was President Ronald Regan’s “simple” Cold War strategy of “we win, they lose.”
“It’s almost as if President Obama read that and got it backwards,” Cruz said.
Cruz’s strategy for dealing with Islamic State is also simple.
“You’re dealing with monsters who are crucifying Christians and beheading American journalists, when you’re dealing with monsters who are training upwards of 100 Americans right now to come back here and visit the same terror on Americans here,” said Cruz. “Number one, we need to not let into this country any American who is fighting with ISIS. And, number two, ISIS says they want to go back and reject modernity. Well, I think we should help them. We ought to bomb them back to the stone age!”
He described the situation with ISIS as part of a larger problem where “all across this world America has receded from leadership.”
“Look at Russia right now,” Cruz said. “Sadly, the state of the world is the Russian bear is encountering the Obama kitty cat.”
Cruz said the country must do more to “stand with Israel” and confront the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“You know what? The United States of America has never been a kitty cat. The reason Putin feels no fear to march into his neighbors, the reason why our allies up and down Europe are terrified of what’s next is because this president, as he puts it, is leading from behind,” Cruz said.
According to Cruz, the U.S. should confront Putin for his push into Ukraine by “putting anti ballistic missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic” and approving measures to increase our national gas exports as an attack on the Russian economy.
To borrow Cruz’s phrase, the tea party crowd ate it up. If there is a hunger for an isolationist foreign policy this crowd didn’t show it.
As the Obama national security scheme has fallen apart at the seams, the GOP base is searching for an antidote who sees the United States confronting enemies, not cringing and hoping for the best. Perry and Cruz, to a degree we haven’t yet seen from other candidates, are making foreign policy an issue of leadership and constitutional responsibility. If other candidates want to win over the base — and the party at large — they are going to have to convince voters they will end the incompetency and chaos that comes with a thinly credentialed president who thinks governing amounts to a string of speeches.