(Bloomberg Politics) — Lagging in the polls and unable to escape the shadow of Donald Trump, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry accused his Republican rivals over the weekend of being converts to conservatism.
Without mentioning names, Perry made an appeal to Tea Party activists at the annual meeting of the group founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch that he is an authentic conservative—with a record in Texas to back it up—while fellow governors in the Republican race have taken unpopular party positions or flip-flopped on issues including abortion and the Common Core education standards.
“My fellow Republicans, we don’t have to settle for 11th hour campaign conversions to conservatism,” Perry told the 3,600 attendees at Americans for Prosperity’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. “I’ve been with you every step of the way.”
With Perry trying to keep his campaign afloat, the two-day “Defending the American Dream Summit” showcased the struggle of Republican candidates attempting to stand out from a crowded field dominated by Trump, while also offering a glimpse of the party’s challenge to satisfy its core conservative voters and still have broad enough appeal to win a general election.
In an impassioned speech, Perry said that while he won’t “trade freedom for federal money,” other governors have accepted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) Medicaid expansion requirements under to bring federal dollars back to their states despite the national debt. Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio have accepted the expansion, but Perry’s most obvious target was Kasich.
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“The idea that Washington has this federal pot of Ohio Medicaid money that would have gone to some other state is just nonsense,” Perry said. “That money doesn’t come from an endless vault of money in Washington. It is borrowed from bankers in China and children in Cleveland and Columbus.”
Perry also made an apparent jab at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker when he said it should trouble voters when a candidate “says he’s pro-life but runs television ads saying abortion is a decision between a woman and her doctor.” Walker aired such an ad during his re-election campaign last year.
The Texas governor said to be wary when candidates “rail against Common Core on the campaign trail but supported it in the capital,” an apparent reference to the change in position by Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in the face of strong conservative opposition.
Perry said while he’s the only candidate with experience defending the U.S. border from illegal immigration, other candidates “want to talk a good game on border security and offer simplistic solutions like, ‘Let’s build a wall.’”
Perry, who was edged out by Kasich for the 10th and final spot in the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland, reportedly stopped paying some of his campaign staff earlier this month because of a lack of funds. The former Texas governor stood at just 1 percent in a recent CNN poll of likely Republican Iowa caucus participants, prompting questions about whether he’ll make it to the Feb. 1 voting in the Hawkeye State.