Donald Trump’s entrance into the GOP presidential race has not only booted another candidate from the likely lineup at next month’s first sanctioned debate, but it’s also denying the laggers any oxygen to draw attention to themselves and try to climb the rungs to the top tier.
Some of the candidates were counting on the limelight the debates carry to help them earn attention, much the way candidates used them in the 2012 GOP primary.
But with Fox News only allowing the top 10 candidates, as determined by national polls, onto the stage for the Aug. 6 affair, and Mr. Trump locking up one of those slots with his meteoric rise, it means one of the other 16 major candidates will be left on the outside.
Right now, that looks like it would be Ohio Gov. John Kasich or former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who are on the bubble, with former Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki rounding out the rest of the outsiders.
But Mr. Perry is hoping to use Mr. Trump’s rise to his own benefit, mounting a ferocious attack on the businessman as a way of building his own brand within the GOP.
Speaking at a swanky hotel steps from the White House on Wednesday, Mr. Perry cast Mr. Trump as a small-minded, mean-spirited, silver-spooned chicken hawk who is scapegoating Hispanics and preying on the “worst instincts in the human condition.”
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“He offers a barking carnival act that can best be described as Trumpism — a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued,” the 65-year-old former governor said.
Austin Barbour, of the pro-Perry Opportunity and Freedom super PAC, told The Washington Times Wednesday the Trump feud has provided the Texas Republican with a window of opportunity.
“He has to take advantage of the attention he is getting to answer reporters’ questions about Donald Trump, if that is where they want to start first, but also to lay out his plan for what he will do if he is our nominee, and particularly if he is president of the United States,” Mr. Barbour said.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is surging in the polls, having morphed into a walking political tabloid, scoring headlines daily with controversial remarks and potshots aimed at both Democrats and his Republicans rivals.
Since announcing his candidacy a little over a month ago, the 69-year-old has cast Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug-runners, questioned Sen. John McCain’s heroism for his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and given away Mr. Graham’s cellphone number at a rally in South Carolina.
He also has shot spitballs at Mr. Perry, saying the governor failed to secure the border between Mexico and Texas during his 14-year tenure, and saying Mr. Perry “should be forced to take an IQ test” before being able to take part in a presidential debate.
The back and forth between the two GOP rivals is likely to heat up again on Thursday when Mr. Trump travels to Laredo, Texas, to talk about immigration — putting him in Mr. Perry’s political backyard.
On Wednesday, Mr. Perry said that Mr. Trump “espouses nativism, not conservatism,” and warned that he would lead the party to the “graveyard.”
As a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he said he took particular offense to Mr. Trump’s criticism of Mr. McCain, who was imprisoned for more than five years in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”
“Donald Trump was born into privilege,” he said. “He received deferments to avoid service in Vietnam. He breathes the free air thousands of heroes dies protecting. He couldn’t endure for five minutes what John McCain endured for five and a half years.”
The prospect of being left on the outside of the first debate has already spurred some candidates to take to the airwaves, with ads from pro-Perry forces, as well as from allies of Mr. Kasich, Ms. Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is running just ahead of Mr. Perry in the polls.
Mr. Barbour said “it is big deal” for Mr. Perry to get on the debate stage. He said his group has no immediate plans to run anti-Trump commercials before the debates, but admitted that could change.