WASHINGTON — Showing no desire to step back from his clash with fellow Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, former Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday unleashed a torrent of insults about the billionaire, calling Trump a "barking carnival act" and a "toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense."
During his speech at a downtown hotel here, Perry also described Trump as "a sower of discord," a scapegoater, a candidate who offers "empty platitudes and promises," and "a cancer on conservatism." He added that Trump "is wrongly demonizing Mexican-Americans for political sport" and is "the modern-day incarnation of the know-nothing movement."
The event was hosted by operatives from the Opportunity and Freedom PAC, which is supporting Perry.
Trump has been sharply critical of Perry, tweeting this week that the former Texas governor "did an absolutely horrible job of securing the border. He should be ashamed of himself."
Perry, a former Air Force pilot, also blasted Trump again for his recent comments about U.S. Sen. John McCain.
"Donald Trump was born into privilege. He received deferments to avoid service in Vietnam," Perry said. "He breathes the free air thousands of heroes died protecting. And he couldn’t have endured for five minutes what John McCain endured for five and a half years."
Perry also tackled Trump on religious grounds for a comment Trump made on Saturday saying he did not seek God's forgiveness.
"A man too arrogant, too self-absorbed to seek God’s forgiveness is precisely the type of leader John Adams prayed would never occupy the White House," Perry said.
The former Texas governor took care to not direct his criticism at Republican supporters of Trump, who is currently at the top of national polling.
"He’s piqued the interest of some Republican voters who have legitimate concerns about a porous border and broken immigration system," Perry said. "But instead of offering those voters leadership or solutions, he has offered fear and soundbites. This cannot stand."
Perry otherwise avoided shots at his fellow rivals for the GOP nomination.
Beyond Trump, he made a broad case for conservative foreign and economic policies. But even in his criticisms of President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the remarks were ideological — not personal — in nature.
In recent weeks, Perry seized the political opportunity that the Trump political conflagration has created. This protracted fight elevates Perry's tone to statesmanlike as he tries to rehabilitate his image after his disastrous 2012 presidential campaign.
But also, only the top 10 candidates in polling will qualify for the Aug. 6 Fox News debate. Perry's engagement with Trump, so far, has translated into an increase in television bookings and media coverage. He is showing a slight uptick in recent polling.
Prior to the speech, former state Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, participated in a panel and made the case for Perry's economic record in Texas.