It was one of the premier strategic surprises of the 2011–2012 Republican presidential primary: the Romney-Paul alliance. Rep. Ron Paul's final presidential campaign, better-funded than anything he'd run before, was always geared toward maximizing the number of delegates he could win in a Romney-dominated race. The détente between the two campaigns turned Paul into an attack dog, often barking at Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, but saving his most intense material for Rick Perry. One example:
At the time I was struck by how breezy and easy the Pauls found it to disparage Perry. He was a joke to them. It had been only a year since he beat a Paul supporter and organizer, Debra Medina, in his final gubernatorial primary, and he'd done so after conservative media portrayed her as a 9/11 truther. (She had "questions.") Paul had felt smeared by the same attack in 2008. Revenge was sweet.
This was the context for a weekend battle between Perry and Paul—a battle Perry chose. After earning a week of national media attention for his warnings about the child refugee crisis on the Mexican border, Perry pivoted and published a Washington Post column about Iraq. It was, said Perry, "disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq."
Nearly a month had passed since a WSJ op-ed in which Paul had swiped at neocons and demanded congressional approval for any on-the-ground operations in Iraq. "We may not completely rule out airstrikes," wrote Paul, but troops could and should not be committed to taking sides in a "civil war."
Perry hardly even disagreed with Paul on substance. "Meaningful assistance can include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sharing and airstrikes," he wrote. It was somewhat hard to tell what he and Paul disagreed on, other than the artful application of Ronald Reagan quotes. "Reagan led proudly from the front, not from behind, and when he drew a 'red line,' the world knew exactly what that meant," wrote Perry, performing the double Axel of a single-sentence Reagan mention and an Obama diss.
Paul's circle found this absolutely ludicrous, and said so. In Saturday comments to McKay Coppins, Paul adviser (and former chief of staff) Doug Stafford accused Perry of mischaracterizing the senator and mocked the governor's 2011 meltdown at a presidential debate in Michigan with a short list of arguments. ("I forget the third. Anyone remember the third one?")
"He set up a straw man," Stafford told me over the weekend, "then tried to blow it down with bluster and meaningless rhetoric."
The Paul circle planned to respond with an op-ed from the senator. Here it is: Here are the most slashing attacks on Perry.
- "Governor Perry writes a fictionalized account of my foreign policy so mischaracterizing my views that I wonder if he’s even really read any of my policy papers."
- "If the governor continues to insist that these proposals mean I’m somehow 'ignoring ISIS,' I’ll make it my personal policy to ignore Rick Perry’s opinions."
- "If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an 'isolationist,' then perhaps its time we finally retire that pejorative."
- "When Megyn Kelly of Fox News tells Dick Cheney that 'history has proven that you got it wrong' on Iraq, it is a very important lesson—we must remember that history so we don’t repeat it.
- "Any future military action by the United States must always be based on an assessment of what has worked and what hasn’t. This basic, common sense precondition is something leaders in both parties have habitually failed to meet. The governor of Texas insists on proving he’s no different."
Paul averages one hard swipe for every paragraph of facts. Paul can hardly believe his luck. It's one thing to debate foreign policy with Dick Cheney, who maintains a residual go-get-'em affection on the right, or with Chris Christie, who appeals to the same people and has the media on his side.
But Rick Perry? Before last week, he was most famous as "that guy who couldn't remember three things in a debate."