During a speech to the conservative interest group Eagle Forum in St. Louis, Miss., on Friday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that he would be leaving the 2016 presidential race. During his heartfelt remarks, however, Perry made reference to fellow candidate Donald Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again!", by stating plainly in his final farewell, "Let’s make America America again." Though it was unclear whether Perry intended for the reference to be a barb at his former rival, given the stormy relationship between the two over the past few months, the comment likely wasn't a coincidence.
"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," said Perry. "This is up to us: It is up to you, and to me ... Let's make America America again."
Perry's Trump-jab was likely made in response to Trump's attacks last Thursday, when the brash business mogul claimed Perry was failing in the polls due to his criticism of Trump's comments on Mexican immigrants.
"Perry attacked me; now he's getting out of the race," Trump told reporters at a press conference. "He was at 4 or 5 percent, now he's getting out of the race, he was at zero."
Perry's campaign had suffered several setbacks over the past couple of months, including the ex-candidate being forced to suspend pay to all staffers and a sudden, dismal drop in the polls. A Public Policy Poll this week put Perry at just 1 percent of the prospective vote, along with fellow GOP candidates Jim Gilmore, former Virginia governor, and former New York Gov. George Pataki. Frustratingly enough, Trump, who seemed to spend most of his time criticizing other candidates rather than actually rolling out any real policy measures, managed to snag some 37 percent of that vote.
"Trump is winning with every segment of the GOP electorate," wrote PPP in a statement on Wednesday. "[Even] when matched head to head with [every other party favorite], Trump blows them all out of the water."
Trump's own derogatory speech hasn't put a stop to his meteoric rise through the right wing. Despite getting himself into sexist Twitter feuds with Fox News host Megyn Kelly, and making vile comments about GOP candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's face, the Trump-Train hasn't lost one bit of steam.
Those sorts of statistics were likely eternally frustrating for candidates like Perry, who, as one New Hampshire Politico Caucus member put it, had completely "rehabilitated" his own image prior to his 2016 run.
"Perry’s just not getting the second look from voters he hoped for," said the Republican, who at the time said that Perry would likely be among the first to drop out of the GOP race. "He’s rehabilitated his reputation to some extent by being serious and competent this time, and he needs to consider that success."
Further compounding that frustration was Trump's continued belittling of Perry in the media. In July, the ex-candidate called Trump's misguided views on illegal immigration (specifically his call to build a giant wall across the southern border) a "fundamental misunderstanding of border security." In a childish response, Trump took to Twitter, responding to Perry's criticism by saying,
.@GovernorPerry just gave a pollster quote on me. He doesn’t understand what the word demagoguery means. ... [He] failed on the border. He should be forced to take an IQ test before being allowed to enter the GOP debate.
When Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain attempted to intervene and defend Perry, Trump called him a "dummy."
While it's true that Trump has attacked the majority of the GOP field with the same aggression, his comments on Perry especially stung, considering that Perry's dropping poll numbers had made it nearly impossible for him to ever make it to the primary debate stage, relegating him again to the second-tier GOP forum prior to the main event next Wednesday night.
Despite every angle working against him, however, Perry was determined not to leave the race without a fight. Taking the stage in St. Louis on Friday night, the ex-candidate left prospective voters with a biting critique of current GOP leader Trump's behavior, in the hopes that they might keep his words in mind when heading to the polls next year.
"Demeaning people of Hispanic heritage is not just ignorant, it betrays the example of Christ," said Perry. "We can enforce our laws and our borders, and we can love all who live within our borders, without betraying our values."