The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Perry: Trump’s campaign ‘a barking carnival act’ and ‘a cancer on conservatism’

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Party of Arkansas Reagan Rockefeller dinner in Hot Springs, Ark., Friday, July 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Former Texas governor Rick Perry escalated his criticism of fellow GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump from blistering to downright blazing in a speech Wednesday, accusing him of being a "cancer on conservatism."

“Let no one be mistaken – Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded,” he said at an event at the Willard Hotel in Washington. “…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.”

The high-profile feud began brewing several weeks ago when the billionaire businessman repeatedly criticized Perry's record securing the nation's southern border during his time as governor. When Perry began pushed back on those statements in campaign appearances and in the media, Trump began making disparaging comments about Perry's intelligence.

Then came Trump's controversial remarks about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) which mocked the former GOP presidential candidate's military service. Perry -- who is himself a veteran -- led the charge against Trump's remark and stated that they disqualify the real-estate mogul from seeking the presidency. “His comments have reached a new low in American politics,” Perry said in a statement released Saturday. “His attack on veterans make him unfit to be Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, and he should immediately withdraw from the race for President." Since then the two have repeatedly jabbed at each other over social media.

Perry's team countered by digging up complimentary comments had Trump made about the Texas governor in recent years.

That strategy culminated Wednesday when the campaign released an online video collection of those comments, titled: "Meet Gov. Rick Perry's Biggest Supporter."

Underlying the feud is the first major battle of the GOP presidential primary: the fight to secure a spot on the Fox News debate stage Aug. 6, where only the top 10 candidates in national polls will be asked to participate.

Trump is hogging the airwaves, and riding high in the polls. Perry has struggled to gain traction, and is currently straddling the threshold for participation, with recent averages placing him anywhere from ninth to 11th overall. Notably, his Wednesday speech decrying Trump was given not in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, in his home state of Texas or Trump's of New York; it was delivered in downtown Washington, D.C., where the lion's share of the country's national political reporters are based.

For the two-term Texas governor, whose promising 2012 presidential run collapsed in part due to a poor debate performance, a strong return to the stage is a key element of his political redemption. And his participation could depend on attracting some of the media attention that surrounds Trump.

“Donald Trump the reality television star is a great generator of ratings. But Donald Trump the candidate is a sower of division, wrongly demonizing Mexican-Americans for political sport,” he said. “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. He scapegoats Hispanics to appeal to our worst instincts, when we need a president who appeals to our best.”

Perry, who compared Trump and "Trumpism" to the Know-Nothing party of the mid-1800s, also said the business mogul “espouses nativism, not conservatism.”

"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," he said.

Perry downplayed his concerns about the upcoming debate during a brief question-and-answer session with reporters after his speech.

“I’m not concerned about being on the stage. What I’m focused on is spending time in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina," he said. "We’ll be on the stage and we’ll be making a case for conservatism, we’ll be making a case for executive leadership which has been missing of the last 6 and a half years from the White House."