When Rick Perry and Ron Paul debated last week at the Reagan Library, it was the first time the two Texans had met. “Some of the people in the media said, ‘I don’t believe you! How could that be true? He’s your governor. You’ve both been in political business for a long time,’” Paul commented afterward. “It’s true. We’ve never crossed paths. Last night we did.”
The Perry camp disputes that — spokesman Mark Miner told RealClearPolitics the two men had met before the debate — but it underscores how little interaction has occurred between the two.
In other words, the Perry-Paul dynamic is no repeat of the relationship between Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota twins who treated debates as a chance to rehash animosities that had festered in state politics years back. Perry and Paul may have significant ideological differences, but the two haven’t regularly squared off in the Texas political arena.
That’s not to say, however, that Perry and Paul have never been on opposite sides of an issue. In 2006, Paul wrote an op-ed critical of one of Perry’s pet projects, the Trans-Texas Corridor. When the corridor program was abandoned two years later, Paul said in a statement, “I am pleased to report that last week we received notice that the Texas Department of Transportation will recommend the I-69 Project be developed using existing highway facilities instead of the proposed massive new Trans Texas Corridor/NAFTA Superhighway. . . . This is a major victory for the people of Texas.”
But their disagreement on the matter appeared to have little impact on the statewide debate.
“I can’t think of anything, certainly policy-wise, in which they were on opposing sides of something, at least where anyone noticed or mattered, given [that] Dr. Paul’s focus has been on federal issues or national issues and of course, Perry was the governor of Texas,” says Michael Quinn Sullivan, president and CEO of the free-market-oriented Empower Texans Foundation and a former press secretary for Paul.
While Perry and Paul haven’t had epic political duels, there still doesn’t appear to be any love lost between them. Asked if he had considered endorsing Paul’s 2008 presidential bid, Perry said, according to the Austin American-Statesman, “You get to make choices in life. And I made a choice that Ron Paul is not mine for president. Pretty simple for me; I didn’t have to study that one too deep.” Asked about Perry in June on Fox News, Paul dismissed him as being “identified with [the George W. Bush administration] and very much the status quo.”
When Paul did defend Perry in 2009, it was a defense that Perry probably didn’t want. When Perry was under fire for his remarks about secession, Paul noted that Perry “didn’t call for secession,” but then went on to discuss how secession was rooted in America’s founding in a Web video. After noting that Perry’s remarks had “really stirred some of the liberal media,” who had called his comments “un-American,” Paul made his case.
“It is very American to talk about secession,” he remarked. “That’s how we came into being. Thirteen colonies seceded from the British and established a new country. So, secession is a very much American principle.”
Another source of tension between the two could be Debra Medina’s recent gubernatorial candidacy. Medina, the tea-party candidate in the 2010 GOP primary, forced Perry to fight for the more right-leaning vote at the same time as he was warding off Kay Bailey Hutchison’s appeal to moderates from his left. Medina, a former campaign manager for Paul, was supported by the libertarian congressman. “I have known Debra for over ten years and have always been impressed by her drive and commitment to principle,” Paul wrote in a letter touting Medina. “Debra has been a real defender of Liberty both in her home town of Wharton and across the state of Texas.”
Perry, of course, eked out a victory in the primary. But Medina still captured 19 percent of the total — and if she hadn’t been accused by Glenn Beck of being a 9/11 truther in the final weeks of the campaign, that number probably would have been higher.
Further fueling the tension between the two Texans could be self-identified Ron Paul supporter Robert Morrow’s muckraking efforts. Morrow placed an ad in an Austin newspaper that blared “Have you ever had sex with Rick Perry?” and asked anyone who had to contact him. He has also been calling Texas political powerbrokers, according to a well-connected Republican.
“The people who are pushing the most scurrilous rumors about Rick Perry, about sexual improprieties and unfaithfulness to his wife, here in Austin are Ron Paul fans,” the source says. “I can tell you for sure that it’s gotten the campaign’s attention just because it is so persistent and irritating. So there may be some resentment there.”
Paul has made it clear his campaign has no connection with Morrow and that he does not support Morrow’s efforts.
Ultimately, Sullivan thinks Paul and Perry have more in common than they disagree on. “Were it not for the fact that they’re both two very capable men looking at the presidency right now, they probably would find they would get along pretty well, might even have more in common than they would probably believe,” he says, noting the two come from similar backgrounds and both served in the Air Force.
“Either way,” he adds, “Texas once again gets an outsized role in national politics.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.