Romney vs. Perry: It's personalBy MAGGIE HABERMAN
August 28. 2011 9:50PM
It's the worst-kept secret of the GOP presidential primary: Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have never liked each other very much.
And the past animosity could play out on the national scene in the coming weeks when Romney, the precarious front-runner, and Perry, who is rising in the polls, take the stage together for a series of fall debates.
The tension between the two goes back at least five years, tracing back to a 2006 blow-up when the two Republicans served together as governors. At the time, Romney, then the Republican Governors Association chairman, hired veteran media strategist Alex Castellanos to do work for the national group - a direct affront to Perry, since Castellanos was working for Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who was running as an independent against the Texas governor.
'There was a big blowup' between Romney and Perry over it, said one Republican familiar with the situation.
'It's not like [Castellanos] was working for a Republican, he was working for an independent,' said the Texas Republican. 'If that had been Rick Perry running the RGA, he'd have fired his ass and made sure he got no work anywhere. You're trying to grow your ranks, not shrink your ranks.'
A source close to Romney who was familiar with the event said, 'I think from [Romney's] perspective, he felt he was doing what was right for the RGA.'
Some say the relationship never recovered.
The following year, Perry endorsed Rudy Giuliani over Romney in the presidential race, in which Castellanos was a Romney adviser. Not only did the Texan pick the New York City mayor over his former gubernatorial colleague, he went the extra step of jabbing at Romney in a book he wrote in 2008 about the Boy Scouts, suggesting the former Massachusetts governor had excluded Scouts who had wanted to volunteer for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City because he disagreed with a Supreme Court decision allowing the group to ban gay Scoutmasters. (Salt Lake officials reportedly denied that anyone who wanted to pitch in was turned away).
Phil Musser, a Republican operative and former executive director of the Republican Governors Association under Romney, acknowledged the two have a history but insisted the reports of animus are being exaggerated and that their relationship has improved.
'Did they come out of the '06 cycle disliking each other? Yes,' Musser, who was recently a top adviser to Tim Pawlenty, told POLITICO. 'But time heals all wounds, and episodes from the past should not be overblown in terms of relevance to the future. In 2010 Romney supported Perry's reelection, campaigned for him and raised money for him. That probably helped a lot, and I'm sure Perry appreciated it.'
'So do I think that their relationship is cordial and there are some lines of communication: Yes,' he said, but added, 'But do I think they're inviting each other over for Labor Day barbecues? No.'
Dave Carney, Perry's top strategist, also denied there is anything amiss.
'I know of no level of dislike between the governors,' he told POLITICO.
'We're so far behind the other competitors that we have a long way to go to just catch up. We look at this contest from a much different point of view than most of the chattering class. We look at this from the point of view of the voters. They want to select someone to be their champion to take on Obama and lead America forward again,' he said. 'To get America working again. Not as a food fight. We hope to earn that trust of the voters. I am sure the extremely talented and skillful team that Gov. Romney has built will employ their own version of the contest, as well as the other folks in the race.'
Asked about the history between the two Republicans, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said, 'Gov. Romney respects the entire field and thinks anyone running would be a better president than President Obama.'
But others who know both men insisted that while it's not, as one put it, 'a burning hate,' things have never quite healed.
Perry thinks "Romney stands for nothing,' said a Perry confidante. 'He's got no spine, no backbone.'
A longtime Republican activist who knows both men argued that Romney gets the unfair end of criticism, and said that Perry is known to his colleagues as 'difficult. He makes lots of demands.'
There's also the simple fact that, stylistically, the pair couldn't be more different.
Perry governs one of the most conservative states, is clearly at ease on the campaign trail, and runs with a retail politicking style unseen on the national stage since the Bill Clinton years. He blew kisses at the TV cameras, intended for Romney, at the Iowa State Fair two weeks ago when asked about Romney's criticism of Perry's business experience. 'Give him my love,' Perry joked.
Romney, who governed one of the most liberal states in the nation, tends toward a more reserved, guarded style on the stump.
'They couldn't be more opposite,' said Castellanos, who is not working for Romney this cycle and declined to discuss the past. 'One is from the reddest state, one from the bluest. One a populist, the other a patrician. One grew up in privilege, the other without much in a little town in Texas. With Romney, questions have been raised about his authenticity and who he is. And Perry is a guy whose strength is his weakness - he doesn't have to ask anybody who he is.'
Perry, people familiar with his views said, sees Romney as expedient, overly ambitious and unpalatable to the conservative base. Likewise, people close to Romney said he has unflattering opinions about Perry.
'I think he had a few exasperating experiences with Perry, and he's not alone in that,' said one source close to Romney. 'I think Mitt thinks Perry is not that bright.'
It may be the first sign that this year's dynamic could resemble the 2008 GOP presidential primary, when several of Romney's foes took a deep personal dislike of the Massachusetts governor that reached beyond the normal bounds of a competitive campaign and made it unusually public.
Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain found the Massachusetts governor privileged, inauthentic and awkward, according to people involved in the race. Even Fred Thompson, a late entrant, made his disdain for Romney clear.
In the 2007 run-up, the hate 'was obvious, and it's real, and it's there and it's palpable,' said one Republican operative involved in the 2008 cycle. 'I do see it potentially developing this time here, too.'
Another Republican who worked on a rival 2008 campaign said, 'It may be that his peers perceive that he treats them the same way he would treat the average voter in that he doesn't let them inside, keeps them at arms distance. He's likely not doing this intentionally. But they may perceive that he is giving them the cold shoulder.'
The debates were get-Mitt forums where the hostility was on open display, with Huckabee, McCain and Giuliani all taking turns aiming barbs at Romney.
'One of the challenges during the debates was there was a real sense of camaraderie between all of the campaigns and in the few hours before and during the debate, because all the staff people were lined up next to each other [backstage] and because all of us knew each other … there was a lot of social interaction between all of us,' said Chip Saltsman, who managed Huckabee's campaign.
'There was a lot of social action between the candidates themselves, not just the staff, again, except for Gov. Romney's campaign,' he said. 'They were always the one at the end of the hall that had the door locked. I would say that in the scheme of the debates, they were playing the role of the Cool Kids.'
The anti-Romney sentiment was captured in a scene from the the 2008 retrospective 'Game Change,' when Romney happened to walk into a men's room during a debate break just as Huckabee, McCain and Giuliani were all trashing him to each other. A source with direct knowledge of the incident told POLITICO that McCain, during one of the bathroom breaks, slammed Romney and said he preferred long shot former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo to him 'because at least he believes the things he says.'
The current presidential race had been shaping up similarly for Romney. He has a history with Jon Huntsman Jr., whose family his own was once close with and whose dad was reportedly furious that Romney became the head of the Salt Lake City Olympics in Utah in 2002. Sarah Palin recently mocked him harshly on Fox News, sticking a finger in the air to test which way the wind was blowing on his response to the debt-ceiling debate.
But the barbs have been relatively low-key and far between. When Huckabee - who slammed Romney's health care plan in his latest book and was the subject of a negative ad blitz from the candidate in Iowa in 2007 - took a pass on the race, it removed a lot of the potential drama.
And over the summer months, most of the notable personal animus was between Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota pols who were vying for the top slot at the Ames Straw Poll and who tussled during the last debate and on the campaign trail. Romney, meanwhile, has avoided the position-shifts that harmed him in 2007, and was seen as the winner of the first few debates because he emerged relatively untouched by opponents.
A source close to Romney insisted that the insider narrative that he is deeply disliked by his peers is overblown, and based on the simple reality of the race.
'[Mitt is] rich, good-looking and the front-runner,' said the source. 'So, that would be my first observation.'
Another Republican who knows Perry and Romney observed, 'Despite how his rivals feel about him, Romney does have this very loyal group of staffers and supporters, so clearly they are seeing something [positive] in him.'
As the race reorients itself to a contest where Romney and Perry battle for front-runner status, the stylistic differences and approaches by the two candidates could offer a stark choice.
'Perry is hot and angry and Romney is cool and dispassionate. Perry is more the rebel outsider; Romney the establishment insider,' said former George W. Bush strategist Mark McKinnon. 'They come from two different worlds. Rural Paint Creek vs. suburban Detroit. Texas A&M vs. Brigham Young. The question is: Do GOP primary voters want to nominate Arthur Fonzarelli or Richie Cunningham?'
Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.
POLITICO and the New Hampshire Union Leader are sharing content for the 2012 presidential campaign.