The Washington Post

Rick Perry moves to reassure Republicans after uneasy debate performances

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign is moving aggressively to reassure key Republican leaders, donors and activists of his strength as a candidate, after a series of uneven performances this month.

Perry held a telephone town hall on Monday night with thousands of activists from the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where he detailed and defended his immigration views, trying to mend fences with conservatives who grew alarmed last week after he accused those who disagree with him of being heartless.

Top campaign strategists have scheduled a conference call with leading donors on Wednesday afternoon, and Perry stepped up his attacks this week on his chief rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, by releasing two tough videos accusing Romney of shifting positions.

The campaign has denied the debates were a major problem. “This is a long campaign,” campaign spokesman Mark Miner said. “It’s a long road, and the governor is going to continue doing what he’s doing — travel the country, talk about issues that matter to the voters. This campaign is about the failed leadership of President Obama.”

In the telephone town hall, which was first reported by CNN, Perry emphasized he would support a fence along some parts of the U.S. border with Mexico. Some party activists are frustrated that Perry does not support a border-wide fence.

He defended his decision to allow some illegal immigrants to pay reduced, in-state tuition to Texas universities but said it was “a Texas solution for a Texas problem” and he would not impose such a policy nationally.

In the call, according to a Republican who listened to it, Perry did not specifically address his debate performances. Nor did he attack his opponents.

But Perry has all but conceded that he has not been effective on stage with his rivals, saying at recent campaign stops that the party should pick the best candidate, not the “smoothest debater.”

“Yep, there may be slicker candidates and there may be smoother debaters, but I know what I believe in,” Perry said Saturday on Mackinac Island, Mich. “And I’m gonna stand on that belief every day. I will guide this country with a deep, deep rudder.”

His performances, in which he has at times struggled to answer questions or speak clearly in full sentences, have energized his rivals. Increasingly, they are questioning not only Perry’s views but also his knowledge and intelligence.

Two of his opponents — Romney and former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania — have made thinly veiled comments over the past two weeks suggesting that Perry did not write books or speeches that bear his name.

Some of Perry’s supporters are equally blunt, although they largely shy away from bashing him publicly.

“He’s going to have to study,” said one major Perry benefactor, who requested anonymity to offer a criticism of the candidate. “I don’t think he’s taking it as seriously as he should.”

William Diamond, a Perry donor from Florida, said, “He has to be more succinct.”

Perry aides would not discuss how he has prepared for three earlier debates or whether he has a formal debate coach.

Unlike some other candidates, Perry has not identified who is advising him on major issues other than Deirdre Delisi, a longtime Texas aide who is serving as the campaign’s policy director.

Perry’s supporters emphasize that other candidates, in particular Romney, have been running for president far longer than the Texas governor. And they argue that the winner of the campaign won’t just be the best debater.

David Wilkins, a former ambassador in the Bush administration who is one of Perry’s most prominent backers in South Carolina, said Perry’s support there remains “very broad and strong.” He said a substantial number of state legislators have decided to back Perry in recent days and “more are coming.”

“Obviously debates are an important part of the process,” Wilkins said. “But so is your individual message and so is your ability to work the crowd and so is your record. I think all of that has to be considered together. I haven’t felt or noticed any diminishing of his support in South Carolina the last couple of weeks.”

Staff writer Amy Gardner contributed to this report.


Fact Checker: Perry's phony attack ad

Christie sidesteps 2012 speculation

VIDEO: Is Christie buzz really all about Perry?

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
We'll have half a million voters in South Carolina. I can shake a lot of hands, but I can't shake that many.
Sen. Marco Rubio, speaking to a group of reporters about his strategy to regain support after a poor performance in the last debate
Fact Checker
Sanders’s claim that Clinton objected to meeting with ‘our enemies’
Sanders said that Clinton was critical of Obama in 2008 for suggesting meeting with Iran. In fact, Clinton and Obama differed over whether to set preconditions, not about meeting with enemies. Once in office, Obama followed the course suggested by Clinton, abandoning an earlier position as unrealistic.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.