Just days after his mug shot went viral on the Internet, Texas Gov. Rick Perry set out to show he won’t be intimidated or slowed down by his indictment on abuse of power charges.
“There’s some interesting things going on back in my home state right now,” he said at an immigration forum in Washington on Thursday as his audience laughed. “I can assure you that I will fight this attack.”
The Republican is casting himself as the type of political pugilist that appeals to his party’s base as he unofficially kicks off his second presidential campaign.
Perry used his appearance to also accuse the White House of putting Americans at risk by insufficiently protecting the U.S. southern border.
A “very real possibility” exists that Islamic State militants had crossed the “porous” border, he said. “We have no clear evidence of that,” yet “common sense” would suggest the group that is causing havoc in the Middle East and beheaded an American journalist there would make such a move.
The Perry narrative, from ordering Texas National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to his defiant response to the charges filed against him last week, will get tested as Perry heads to New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina within the next week. The three states have the earliest presidential nominating contests.
“Both parties want people who are committed to fighting for their principles, who are not afraid and not going to apologize for doing what they think is right,” Luis Saenz, the campaign manager for Perry’s 2006 governor’s race, said in an interview. “You see some of that now with Perry.”
Perry’s decision on whether to run will be determined in part by whether Republican voters will give him a second chance after the meltdown of his 2012 presidential bid, and whether he can raise money under the cloud of a criminal case.
He is accused of abusing his gubernatorial authority by threatening to veto the budget for a public corruption office unless the Democratic prosecutor who led the unit quit. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who had been convicted of drunken driving, refused to resign, and Perry cut the funding.
Until the Texas indictment on Aug. 15, Perry was running in the middle of a crowd of governors and senators considering a run in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. Making good on his vow to beat the charges against him may separate him from the pack.
An internal poll commissioned by the Tea Party Patriots, a Georgia-based group that has spent more than $10 million on campaign and other political activism this year, showed that 47 percent of its donors say Republicans in Congress compromise too much, while 23 percent said there wasn’t enough cooperation.
That should embolden Perry, said Jenny Beth Martin, chairwoman of the group’s super political action committee.
“They want Republicans to stand up and fight and compromise less,” Martin said in an interview. “The fact that Rick Perry is standing up and fighting will appeal to Republican voters.”
Perry, 64, showed that streak at Thursday’s event, telling his audience at The Heritage Foundation, a Republican policy research group, that President Barack Obama is to blame for the “chaos and grief” on the border.
Almost 63,000 children were apprehended trying to cross the U.S-Mexico border between Oct. 1, 2013 and July 31, twice as many as during the same time period a year earlier.
As U.S. lawmakers failed to respond to the crisis, Perry ordered 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, which he described Thursday as “largely undefended.”
“Defending the border is not a political option, it is a constitutional obligation,” Perry said. “And until the federal government meets that duty and secures that border, all talk of immigration reform is pointless because Washington has no credibility on the matter.”
Perry’s tough talk comes after his opponents in the 2012 Republican presidential race attacked him on immigration issues.
He was criticized by eventual nominee Mitt Romney for allowing undocumented immigrants who graduate from Texas high schools to receive lower in-state tuition rates at state colleges. Romney called that measure a magnet for illegal immigration, while Perry defended it as a way to keep young people from becoming a drain on state resources.
Perry on Thursday took a hard stance on the fighting in the Middle East, saying that combat troops should be one of the options the U.S. considers to fight Islamic State militants after the video-taped beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley.
“All your options have to be open,” Perry said. “Signaling to your enemy what you are not going to put on the table is very, very bad.”
Perry called for a “sustained air campaign” in Iraq, where the militants have seized parts of the country.
“We have come to one of those moments when American action will be decisive, and inaction will be consequential,” he said.