In Iowa, Cruz grabs the torch from Perry

January 27, 2016

ALBIA, Iowa—If Rick Perry was feeling rueful, he didn’t betray it.

Four years ago, around this time, it was Perry who was barnstorming these same small towns in southern Iowa, trying to elbow his way up a top-tier finish in the Iowa caucuses. He ended up finishing fifth—and was out of the race soon thereafter.

This time around, Perry the presidential candidate didn’t even make it to 2016. The former Texas governor dropped out the race in September, having failed to stand out in a field of over a dozen Republican contenders. And today, he was here not for himself, but for Ted Cruz, who has done more to capture the imagination of conservatives both here and elsewhere than Perry ever had.

With less than a week before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, Perry dutifully stood in the middle of a restaurant in Albia (pop. 3,800) and delivered a testimonial with Cruz watching. “I’ve really gotten to know this man,” he said of his fellow Texan.

Perry should be familiar with Cruz by now. After all, Cruz served in Perry’s administration for five years as Texas’ attorney general and then witnessed Perry’s spectacular flame-out as a presidential candidate in 2012. This time around, Perry found that many of his wealthy donors now favored the fire-breathing Cruz, who is a full two decades younger.

The torch was less passed than it was grabbed.

On Tuesday, Perry found himself touting the next generation, rather than himself, even if he used much of the same language as he did when he was a candidate. The four-term Texas governor made much of Cruz’s standing as a D.C. outsider. “I’m ready to send Ted Cruz to Washington, D.C, to break up that cabal, to break up that cartel,” Perry said.

To layer the ignominy on further, Perry was greeted with a bear hug by Steve King, the Iowa congressman and Cruz supporter who is perhaps the biggest foe of immigration reform in Congress.

During his 2012 run, Perry was damaged in the eyes of conservatives when he defended a bill he signed as governor that allowed the children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition rates at Texas public universities.

“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry famously said during a Republican debate then.

There was no talk of that kind of compassion toward immigrants Tuesday in Iowa. And at a later event, Cruz, who has been critical of attempts at  comprehensive immigration reform, made it clear his sympathies lay with King. “I’ve been proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him,” Cruz said in Centerville.

While the impact of Perry’s endorsement is debatable, it does give Cruz something to trumpet in the wake of Sarah Palin’s embrace of Donald Trump last week.

And it also gives Cruz a little more of economic story to tell.

During his two runs for the White  House, Perry often mentioned the more than one million jobs he said were created under his stewardship in Texas. Cruz, who never has held executive office of any kind, was quick to cite those statistics on the campaign trail.

Maybe he’ll have better luck with them than Perry had.

REUTERS/James Oliphant

REUTERS/James Oliphant

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