Four months after he quit his bid for the White House, former Gov. Rick Perry is returning to Iowa to try to help U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz slow Donald Trump’s momentum heading into Monday’s Iowa caucuses.
Perry will make seven campaign appearances with Cruz across Iowa on Tuesday and a couple more on Wednesday, culminating in a right-to-life rally in Des Moines.
Perry tweeted a video endorsing Cruz on Monday in which he said that the first-term Texas senator “has proven that he is ready to serve as our commander in chief on Day One.”
“He has also shown a willingness to take on the Washington cartel,” Perry said, using Cruz’s term for what he characterizes as the bipartisan “establishment” of politicians who, in league with lobbyists and other powerful interests, ignore the wants and needs of the American people.
Among Trump’s rivals, Perry was first and most explicit in his condemnation of Trump.
“Let no one be mistaken — Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded,” Perry said in a major policy address in Washington on July 22. “It cannot be pacified or ignored, for it will destroy a set of principles that has lifted more people out of poverty than any force in the history of the civilized world — the cause of conservatism.”
“Donald Trump is the modern-day incarnation of the know-nothing movement,” Perry said then.
Cruz, more than any of Trump’s other opponents, avoided criticizing the reality TV star last year, instead praising him for calling attention to issues such as immigration. Trump, for the most part, laid off Cruz as well, saying he liked Cruz precisely because Cruz had said nice things about him.
But that era of good feeling was doomed to end in the heat of combat, and that’s what has happened with a vengeance as the Republican nomination battle has increasingly devolved into a two-man race between Trump and Cruz and with most of the attention focused on Iowa.
The cease-fire ultimately ruptured the first week of January, beginning with Trump raising questions about whether Cruz meets the constitutional requirement that a president be a “natural born citizen.” While Cruz’s mother was an American citizen, Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta.
“Donald has changed how he’s approached me; he’s insulting me every day,” Cruz told reporters before an appearance at the Fireside Pub on Monday. “He can do that. That’s his prerogative. But I do not intend to respond in kind.”
“I will continue to sing Donald’s praises personally,” Cruz said.
“I think he’s bold. I think he’s brash. I think he’s energized a lot of people to focus on this election, and that’s a wonderful thing, but policy distinctions are what we should be talking about.”
“Conservatives are coming together; conservatives are united; conservatives are standing as one,” said Cruz, describing himself as the candidate they are coalescing around and painting Trump as a man conservatives simply cannot count on.
“Who can you trust?” asked Cruz, insisting that Republican voters “are looking for a consistent conservative — someone who’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
Cruz said some in the party “establishment” are now abandoning U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida because they don’t think he can win and moving to Trump because they think they can cut deals with him and keep their cronyism intact.
“Donald says the problem with Ted is, ‘He won’t go along to get along,’ ” Cruz said. “You know what? He’s right.”
The ground game
But Sam Clovis, who went from chairing Perry’s Iowa campaign to chairing Trump’s national campaign, said that only Trump’s campaign really rattles the status quo and that it’s only Trump who, if elected, will truly change the way Washington operates.
Clovis told the American-Statesman on Monday that the kind of deals Trump would hammer out as president are not the namby-pamby, half-a-loaf deals of Washington, but the hard-headed deals of a pre-eminent business negotiator.
Clovis said that attacks on Trump’s past liberal lapses were irrelevant, that Trump had grown and matured, and that he is now motivated by a keen appreciation of the nation’s dilemma and concern for the world his children and grandchildren will inherit.
“There is a sense of altruism in this race that I don’t think a lot of people appreciate,” said Clovis, a conservative icon in Iowa who once fashioned himself the Iowan Ted Cruz.
“This man is a true patriot who truly, deeply loves this country,” Clovis said of Trump.
Trump appears to have the momentum heading into the final week of the campaign. Cruz was ahead in most polls late last year, but the most recent Fox poll has Trump opening an 11-point lead.
Matt Schultz, Cruz’s Iowa chairman, said polls showing Trump’s surge should be discounted because they include a lot of folks who haven’t caucused in the past and, he believes, are far less likely to caucus this time than the Cruz faithful.
“We have a great ground game,” Schultz said. “We are going to get our people out.”
But Clovis said that while Cruz’s support is probably the most solid of the candidates, “Mr. Trump’s support is the most galvanized of all.”
“I think if they’re going to stand in line in subzero — not subfreezing but in subzero temperatures — for five hours to get into a gymnasium to wait two more hours to hear people talk for another hour and a half, you’re going to tell me they are not going to come out to caucus?” Clovis said. “I think we are going to have such a huge night it will be historic.
“I’ve been watching politics since I was 7 years old, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Clovis said. “This is not your father’s campaign, and I couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t be prouder. We’re changing politics in America, and I think that’s something we’ve needed for a long time.”
A good slogan
“I love the gov,” Jamie Johnson, who was senior director of Perry’s campaign, operating out of Iowa, said Monday.
But Johnson had predicted the Trump surge reflected in the latest Fox poll — a surge, he believes, that is still building.
“The author of ‘The Art of the Deal’ is closing the deal,” said Johnson, who said that Trump’s four-word slogan — Make America Great Again –is brilliantly clear, simple and positive.
Jim Peterman, a retiree who came to see Cruz at his first appearance of the day at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Maquoketa, was on the fence between Trump and Cruz before hearing from Cruz.
But afterward, Peterman said, he was “98 percent” for Cruz because he felt that, unlike Trump, Cruz offered the specifics to actually make America great again.
“It’s a really good slogan,” Peterman said. “I wish Cruz had come up with it.”
American-Statesman chief political correspondent Jonathan Tilove is covering the run-up to the Iowa caucuses Feb. 1. For Tilove’s take on the latest campaign news, read the First Reading blog, updated mornings on mystatesman.com.
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