*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump strongly praised Rick Perry when asked at an Austin fundraiser on Tuesday about the possibility of the former governor challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in a Republican primary.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about that and I don’t know if he wants to do it, but boy, will he do well,” Trump said of Perry. “People love him in Texas, and he was one great governor."
"I don’t know what he’s going to do but you are one popular guy all over, but in Texas in particular," Trump said to Perry, who was in the room.
A Democratic group, the Lone Star Project, distributed a 30-second audio clip of the comment on Wednesday morning. The Texas Tribune confirmed the content audio via two sources, one who was in the room and another who was briefed on the exchange.
According to the source present, the comment came about as Trump introduced each of the luminaries at the fundraiser. When he came upon Perry, an audience member asked about Perry running for Senate and Trump launched into his praise.
The billionaire did not explicitly back Perry for Senate, and he did not disparage Cruz. But Trump has previously courted controversy by wading into intra-party battles, including when he temporarily withheld his endorsement from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in his primary earlier this month.
Cruz is up for re-election in 2018, and his political future is an open question in Texas politics. Cruz refused to endorse Trump in his Republican National Convention speech, eliciting boos from the convention floor.
The Texas Republican political class is currently consumed with palace intrigue, much of which is focused on a possible challenge to Cruz from U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin.
The Perry-Cruz-Trump dynamic is a swiftly ironic turn from only six months ago. Back in February, Perry endorsed Cruz and campaigned fiercely against Trump during the Texas primary. That came after Perry declared Trump to be a "cancer on conservatism" during his own presidential run in the summer of 2015.
But Perry was also one of the first major figures in the Texas GOP to vocally back Trump when the real estate magnate secured the nomination in May.
Read more of the Tribune's related coverage:
- A new Democratic poll suggests Perry could defeat Cruz.
- While campaigning in Austin, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump assailed Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as unfit for public office in the wake of new reports about ties to her family foundation while serving as U.S. secretary of state.