Erstwhile Texas governor and current presidential candidate Rick Perry's campaign is in danger of dying before it really gets underway, but Perry is doing everything he can to avoid a premature exit.
Perry is stuck somewhere below 5 percent in national Republican primary polls. In any election from 2012 backward, low national numbers six months before primaries and caucuses begin wouldn't be a huge problem, in and of itself. Campaigns could set up camp in one of the states featuring an early nominating contest, do well there, and build their national profiles as they went along. Not so in the 2016 cycle, because of an arbitrary rule made by Fox News, which is hosting the first Republican debate on August 6.
Fox wants only 10 candidates on the stage for the debate. It makes sense that Fox would want to limit the field — if all 16 GOP candidates were given spots, any attempts at debate would be unwieldy, at best. To get to 10, Fox is taking an average of the the 10 national polls taken closest to the debate. For the candidates currently at the top of the Republican heap — like Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker — getting in isn't an issue, they can proceed as usual. For candidates hovering near the cut line — like Perry, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum — there's an urgency to make a splash, get squarely into the top 10 and avoid being out of sight and out of mind.
Much to his credit, Perry seems to have found a way to get potentially sustaining media attention for his campaign: Go after Trump as hard as possible.
Trump is an easy target. In the couple of months the comb-over connoisseur has been running, he's called Mexican immigrants rapists, insulted Senator John McCain's military service record — he's a former POW — and given out South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham's cell phone number on live television. Still, Trump's received a certain amount of deference from most of the field. He's polling well, and it's risky to piss off followers of someone who's behaving a little like a deranged cult leader.
Perry's polling numbers mean he has got very little to lose, though. Earlier this month, he released a direct camera address to Trump, blasting the real estate developer for his comments about Mexicans and touting his own record on immigration. This week, Perry's campaign staff has had a good time retweeting Trump's repeated compliments to Perry on social media. All of that led up to Wednesday afternoon, when Perry unloaded on Trump during a speech in Washington.
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"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. "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."
That wasn't the end of Perry railing against Trump, not by a long shot, but that was the best line. The former governor went on to criticize Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, defend McCain and extol Ronald Reagan, just as you'd expect from any GOP candidate.
Perry has14 days to ensure he gets on the stage for the first Republican debate, set for Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, the site of the 2016 GOP convention.