Rick Perry stands up to coyotes — and Donald Trump
© Getty Images

Over the course of the summer, the Republican presidential nomination process has increasingly begun to look like a circus, complete with a clown car number of candidates (17) and a showman in the spotlight.

Within this increasingly comical context: Sixteen GOP presidential contenders go jogging with a puppy and on the trail come across a coyote poised to attack the puppy. The first candidate runs away from the coyote, the second pets it, the third pretends he didn't see it, the fourth shouts once for it to go away and turns his back, the fifth thought it was only a harmless collie badly in need of a trip to the groomer ... while the 15th candidate attempted to quietly shoo it away without anyone noticing. Then the final candidate calmly pulled out his Ruger LCP .380 and shot the coyote dead.

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Over the past six weeks, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE has seen his vote intention in the GOP primary polls rise dramatically. Trump's skillful use of controversial comments (and the media's seemingly insatiable appetite for anything and everything Trump) on topics ranging from immigration to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) status as a war hero have simultaneously horrified many Republican elites, resonated with a significant segment of the GOP primary electorate and delighted Democrats and comedians.

Among Trump's 16 rivals for the GOP nomination, former Texas Gov. Rick PerryRick PerryRepublicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Five things to know about Texas's strained electric grid | Biden honeymoon with green groups faces tests | Electric vehicles are poised to aid Biden in climate fight Five things to know about Texas's strained electric grid MORE has far and away been Trump's most visible and vocal critic. Perry's anti-Trump offensive this summer has earned him praise from within the ranks of the Republican Party, ranging from bloggers and columnists to officeholders and donors. Many of these individuals firmly believe that Trump is seriously damaging the Republican Party's image, as well as diminishing the prospects of the party's eventual nominee defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Perry's position as the point man for the GOP's offensive against Trump is the product of at least five interrelated factors. First, none of the other relevant candidates appear to have much desire to assume this role, creating a void that Perry has filled. Second, unlike some of his centrist-conservative rivals who do not want to risk an engagement with Trump because they fear it will push their mediocre approval ratings among Tea Party conservatives even lower, Perry is confident that his conservative bona fides are rock solid. Perry served for a record 14 years as the governor of Texas, the nation's largest red state and a state whose approach to economic development and social policy is viewed by many conservatives as a model for the nation.

Third, unlike some of his colleagues, Perry either does not subscribe to the belief that the best way to get rid of a troll is to ignore the troll or for the time being believes the troll's vitality is beneficial to his campaign goals. Fourth, unlike many of his movement conservative/Tea Party rivals, Perry is not overly concerned about alienating Trump supporters who (once the Trump bubble has inevitably burst) will still be casting votes in the 2016 primaries or, in the long term, undermining his future power in the U.S. Senate, adversely affecting his reelection bid and/or reducing the amount of money he will earn as a commentator, speaker or author. Fifth, currently averaging only between 2 and 3 percent in the national polls and on the bubble for one of the 10 spots in the prime-time Fox News debate on August 6, Perry has little to lose and much to gain from his anti-Trump crusade.

Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy's fellow in political science and the Joseph D. Jamail chair in Latin American studies at Rice University as well as a co-author of Texas Politics Today: 2015-2016 Edition. Follow him @MarkPJonesTX.