By Christy Hoppe, Dallas Morning News
The burgeoning rivalry between Texas’ Republican titans took center stage Friday as both assailed Washington but also managed a few subtle swipes at each other.
Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Rick Perry are in the pool testing the presidential waters and hoping to make a splash among the 500 conservative activists at the national RedState convention.
But also on display were the sharpening themes of the nascent campaigns and the sharpening thrusts of their own differences.
Perry sold himself as an experienced chief executive who has made hard decisions and limited government overreach. He has suggested voters are wary of a less-than-one-term senator, such as Barack Obama, trying to run the nation.
Cruz, elected two years ago, stirred the crowd as a leader who said he won’t be bowed by power brokers and will return the grass roots to authority.
Earlier, he talked dismissively of Perry’s claims to have generated jobs, saying politicians “are very good at killing jobs, but they don’t create jobs.”
Together, they are jockeying for much of the same grass-roots support. And this weekend, they also are both on their way to Iowa, the state holding the first presidential contest.
“Ted Cruz’s strategy is shaped by the way his win in Texas unfolded,” said pollster and University of Texas political scientist Jim Henson, citing how Cruz fought the establishment with firebrand rhetoric. “He continues to be seen as the No. 1 preference for those activist conservatives.”
Perry is angling to be the statesman and still acceptable to the hard-right conservatives, who probably will have more sway in the primaries, Henson said.
Three years ago, at the RedState convention in South Carolina, Perry launched his presidential bid before a raucous crowd and became an immediate front-runner.
Friday, he appeared to a more befittingly sedate crowd, well aware of his abysmal campaign but stirred by his 13-year record as governor.
Perry’s speech was the Texas Tout, saying that during his tenure, jobs have expanded, crime has shrunk and state taxes have stayed the same.
His biggest applause line was about his anti-illegal-immigration order last month to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to deter crossings at the border.
“If Washington won’t act to secure the border with Mexico, then as governor of Texas, I will,” he said to a standing ovation.
In expressing his executive action, he took the opportunity to contrast it to a federal government — including senators — that he said literally has vacated its responsibilities.
“Congress shouldn’t be on a five-week vacation,” Perry said. “I can assure you that drug cartels and gangs are not on vacation.”
Senator’s selling points
Cruz proved again that he is the rabble-rousing hero of his party’s right wing.
RedState leader Erick Erickson introduced him as “the leader of the conservative movement in America,” gushing that he’s “like all the Beatles in one person.”
Cruz blasted Obama and his policies, but also lamented that Republicans sometimes lie down and let “Democrats run right over us.”
He cited instances in which his opposition and threats to shut down government or block appointees have produced results. He relished the fights, saying Washington needs people who will battle for the grass roots.
“The biggest divide in politics and in this nation is not between Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “It is between entrenched politicians in both parties and the American people. In issue after issue, there are far too many politicians that aren’t listening to the people.”
Former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a tea party leader in Congress, said in an interview the main differences between the Texans might be more style than substance.
Perry is about getting government to change slowly, methodically while Cruz is more constitutional and confrontational, said DeMint, who heads the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Perry has demonstrated he can get government to work by advancing conservative principles a little at a time, while Cruz has shown he can stand his ground and isn’t afraid of challenging the status quo, he said.
“They both can get crowds on their feet,” DeMint said.
“It would excite me to have the country having to decide between youth, courage and aggressiveness vs. more management experience,” he said. “Very possibly both of those could be at the forefront.”