On Friday afternoon, Rick Perry became the first candidate in the congested Republican field to drop out of the presidential race.
In a concession speech delivered to the Eagle Forum in St. Louis, Missouri, the former Texas governor took aim at Donald Trump — without directly mentioning the business tycoon’s name. He challenged voters to resist the lures of celebrity, nativism, racism, false conservatism, and candidates who did not have true Christian faith.
He asserted that the U.S.-Mexico border can be secured “without inflammatory rhetoric, without base appeals that divide us based by race, culture, and creed.”
“Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant,” he said. “It betrays the example of Christ.”
He nodded to Martin Luther King, Jr., saying in his prepared remarks: “We need to get back to the central constitutional principle that, in America, it is the content of your character that matters, not the color of your skin – that it doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you are going.”
“We have a tremendous field of candidates,” he said, faltering. “Probably the greatest group of men and women. I step aside knowing our party’s in good hands.”
“It is time to elevate our debate from divisive name calling, from soundbites without solutions, and start discussing how we will make the country better for all if a conservative is elected president,” he said, emphasizing the word “conservative.”
Perry launched his campaign for president (his second) in June with the promise “to revive this American Dream again.”
He was one of the first to publicly attack Trump’s qualifications, releasing a statement in July saying that what Trump was “offering is not conservatism, it is Trump-ism – a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.” He memorably called Trump’s brand of politics a “cancer on conservatism.”
And so, in what has become a familiar pattern, he became one of The Donald’s first targets.
Perry had “failed on the border,” Trump tweeted. “He should be forced to take an IQ test before being allowed to enter the GOP debate.”
As it happened, Ohio governor John Kasich, a late entry into the race, edged Perry out in the polls to capture the #10 spot in the top-tier Fox News Republican debate in August, relegating Perry to the warmup act. Perry was slated to appear in the minor-league debate on CNN next Wednesday as well.
In the weeks leading up to his suspension of his campaign, Perry was dogged by reports that his operation was critically short on staff and money. He flailed in the polls, and appeared unable in a television interview to affirm that he was still in the running. After his concession Friday, television pundits were quick to note that Perry’s stump speech was likely to garner him the most media attention he had received in weeks.
“For me, the message has always been greater than the man,” Perry said. “The conservative movement has always been about principles, not personalities. Our nominee should embody those principles. He – or she – must make the case for the cause of conservatism more than the cause of their own celebrity.”
His written remarks concluded:
I remain as convinced as ever: there is nothing wrong with America today that cannot be fixed with new leadership. Leadership that champions conservative ideas.
As great as our greatest Republican presidents were – from Lincoln to Reagan – it is their ideas that remain greatest.
Those ideas live on through the spirit, idealism and optimism of this generation of Americans.
We must return to great ideas, to our belief in the power of free individuals, free markets, and free Americans standing watch for liberty wherever it is threatened.
This is up to us. It is up to you. And to me. Let’s roll up our sleeves. Let’s get to work. Let’s make America, America again.
Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Trump was quick to respond:
.@GovernorPerry is a terrific guy and I wish him well- I know he will have a great future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 11, 2015
This article has been updated.
Photo: Rick Perry, via Facebook.