IOWA CITY, Iowa — Shortly before former Texas governor Rick Perry dropped out of the presidential race months ago, one Washington Post article depicted him as a zombie candidate, artificially propped up by a super PAC but stumbling lifelessly onward anyway.
But Perry’s back. This week, after endorsing Ted Cruz, he’s hit the trail in Iowa for his fellow Texan. For another politician, it might be humbling to campaign on behalf of a former rival whom one has in the past dismissed as an inexperienced senator unprepared for the presidency, but if Perry feels that way, he isn’t showing it. He in fact appears to be having a pretty good time.
“I never left,” Perry told reporters after a campaign stop with Rep. Steve King in Burlington, Iowa, on Wednesday morning. Perry and King did two appearances on behalf of Cruz on Wednesday, sans Cruz. “You didn’t see me up here a lot but I was engaged in conversations.”
Perry spoke at length about Cruz at both stops, and fully admitted to not knowing the guy very well until Cruz started contacting him during the campaign — an unusual move for an endorser.
“I really didn’t know Ted Cruz,” Perry said in Burlington. “I knew who Ted Cruz was, I knew he was a smart lawyer. But I really didn’t know him. And after I got out of the race he called a number of times and said I’d like to come and speak with you.” Perry praised Cruz for taking the time to spend a day with him in the busy campaign season, and said Cruz is the “best listener I have ever been around in my life.”
Asked about who else besides Cruz wooed him for an endorsement, Perry said, “A lot of people knew my phone number.”
When Perry suspended his campaign in September, he urged the party to reject Trumpism in his dropping out speech, saying “we cannot indulge nativist appeals that divide the nation further. The answer to our current divider-in-chief is not to elect a Republican divider-in-chief.” In a speech in July, he had called Trump a “cancer” on conservatism.
Back on the trail again, Perry didn’t hesitate to criticize Donald Trump again. (The Cruz campaign has been increasingly aggressive towards Trump after a long period of detente between the two candidates was broken a few weeks ago when Trump began raising questions about Cruz’s eligibility to be president.)
“Why would he not come debate?” Perry told reporters about Trump’s decision to skip the debate this Thursday in Des Moines. “The affront to the people of Iowa is pretty overwhelming. From my perspective he’s saying, ‘I’m too important to have to turn to Iowa and lower myself to do that.’” Iowa caucus goers won’t buy it, Perry said.
Cruz, Perry said, “bases his belief system in two documents, the Bible and the Constitution. And neither one of those change. And so I know that he’s going to be a consistent individual, I know what he’s going to do. Mr. Trump, I don’t. And that’s not just me making that observation, that’s Donald Trump in his own words.”
Perry’s Bible-and-Constitution line echoed a similar one used by King, who carried inside his pocket a plastic spoon, which he waved around while talking about Cruz having been “spoon-fed” the two documents as a child. Perry also appears to have quickly absorbed some other lines that one frequently hears on the Cruz trail; at both stops on Wednesday, he gave a version of a joke Cruz often tells about encouraging voters to vote 10 times, but not to actually commit voter fraud because “we’re not Democrats.” In Iowa City, Perry repeated a story Iowa evangelical leader and Cruz endorser Bob Vander Plaats tells about meeting a Benjamin Netanyahu adviser who encouraged him and Iowans to “choose well” in the presidential race, though in Perry’s telling it was “someone” who told the story and Netanyahu himself who made the exhortation to choose well.
Perry declined to say whether he thinks others in the still-crowded field should drop out like he did, saying, “Listen, the last thing for me is to be giving anybody advice on whether or not they need to get out.”
A few hours later, Perry and King appeared again at the Hamburg Inn in Iowa City, a spot famous for its “pie shakes” (a milkshake made of pie). Perry, clutching a pie shake, lingered for a few moments outside afterward, going back and forth with two young Rand Paul supporters.
“Where are y’all on weed? Y’all for weed?” Perry asked.
“Oh yeah, we know you are, too,” one of them responded. “We saw you decriminalize it in Texas. Good work there.”
“No, you didn’t, no, you didn’t,” Perry said, jovially. “You guys need to get educated, man, y’all are way off line.” (Perry has voiced support in the past for lighter marijuana penalties, though he did not decriminalize it in Texas.)
Perry, the zombie candidate re-animated, then got on the campaign bus.