The pusillanimity that has characterized much of the sprawling GOP 2016 presidential field’s reaction to the cascading series of injudicious comments that regularly stream from the mouth of alleged presidential candidate Donald Trump has been breathtaking. Nothing should have been easier than denouncing a prolific Democratic donor, a self-described former friend of Hillary Clinton’s, who soaked up news cycle after news cycle contending, erroneously, that Mexican illegal immigrants are uniquely likely to commit violent crimes and leadingly asking cable news anchors “who’s doing the raping?” A handful of the GOP’s presidential candidates have cautiously condemned Trump’s rhetorical excesses, but the 2016 field’s bottom tier has perhaps unsurprisingly, submitted the harshest critiques of the reality television star. None, however, has distanced themselves from Trump more elegantly than former Texas Governor Rick Perry.
While Trump’s generalizing and stereotypical comments about illegal immigrants were unproductive (and offensive), a presidential campaign would be careless if it failed to take note of how deeply they resonated within a segment of voters for whom economic uncertainty is a palpable, driving concern. This perhaps accounts for the tepid way in which the GOP presidential field’s frontrunners have addressed Trump’s tactless comments. Perry has joined Republicans like former New York Gov. George Pataki and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in condemning them unequivocally, but he also skillfully took the opportunity of that denunciation to demonstrate the depth of his understanding of immigration issues.
In a video released by Perry’s campaign on Wednesday, the former Texas governor took the opportunity to highlight his own considerable record addressing border security and immigration-related affairs in his three terms as governor of one of the Union’s largest states. Perry took the time to detail the steps he has taken, and those that will be necessary, to effectively stem the tide of illegal immigration. It was, as attorney and RedState contributor Dan McLaughlin submitted, a Republican Sister Souljah moment.
While it might not have been advisable for Perry to respond directly to Trump in any fashion, thus inevitably elevating him to a stature he does not deserve, the contrast the former Texas governor drew couldn’t be more stark. While the reality television star sells disenchanted Republican primary voters on the notion of a great wall of the Rio, constructed at no taxpayer cost, which would alone succeed at keeping border-crossers out where other barriers have failed, Perry identified the effective, human elements necessary to halt the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. He also projected a sincerity Trump lacked when accurately noting that citizens of Mexican descent are an integral part of the American social fabric. Such comments may sound trite, but these are the wages demanded of a party that elevates a figure like Trump to frontrunner status – however fleeting that condition might be.
This is not the first time Perry has spoken candidly and masterfully on a matter related to race. In a speech last week addressing the uniformity with which African-Americans turn out to vote for Democratic candidates on the presidential level, Perry had the boldness to concede that he fully understood why they do so.
“States supporting segregation in the South cited ‘states’ rights’ as a justification for keeping blacks from the voting booth and the dinner table,” the Southern governor confessed after criticizing the GOP’s 1964 nominee Barry Goldwater and his opposition to the Civil Rights Act’s anti-federalist elements.
“As you know, I am an ardent believer in the Tenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights,” he continued. “Too often, we Republicans – myself included – have emphasized our message on the Tenth Amendment but not our message on the Fourteenth – an Amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the first great contributions of the Republican Party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery.”
It was a skillful, high-minded appeal to unity – a stark contrast from the divisive way in which this administration has handled issues of race. It’s no small feat to speak eloquently on racial subjects and over the heads of a media establishment that is deeply committed to perpetuating the myth that Republicans are, by nature, racially suspect.
Since entering the race for the White House, Perry has been turning in a string of stellar performances. The rest of the Republican field would do well to take a page from his playbook.