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Rick Perry trashed Donald Trump and defended immigrants in his exit speech

Rick Perry (R-TX) speaks to the crowd during the Eagle Forum's Eagle Council Event at the Marriott St. Louis Airport Hotel on September 11, 2015, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Rick Perry (R-TX) speaks to the crowd during the Eagle Forum's Eagle Council Event at the Marriott St. Louis Airport Hotel on September 11, 2015, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

At this point, it's axiomatic that a losing candidate's best oratory comes in his or her final speech — and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry didn't disappoint when he dropped out of the 2016 presidential race Friday.

Freed from the constraints of trying to win, Perry delivered broadsides against GOP frontrunner Donald Trump and an impassioned defense of immigrants.

"The answer to a president nominated for soaring rhetoric and no record is not to nominate a candidate whose rhetoric speaks louder than his record. It is not to replicate the Democrat model of selecting a president, falling for the cult of personality over durable life qualities," Perry told the Eagle Forum in St. Louis, according to his prepared remarks. It was an oblique but unmistakable reference to Trump, whose celebrity has helped propel him to the front of the Republican pack.

"My second warning is this: We cannot indulge nativist appeals that divide the nation further. The answer to our current divider-in-chief is not to elect a Republican divider-in-chief," he said in another thinly veiled shot at Trump, who said earlier this year that Mexico is sending drug dealers and rapists to the US.

Perry didn't just excoriate Trump for stirring up the passions of immigration-minded voters — he forcefully avowed the common bonds between American citizens and unauthorized immigrants. He even framed his argument with a homage to the late Martin Luther King Jr.

"We need to get back to the central constitutional principle that, in America it is the content of your character that matters, not the color of your skin," Perry said.

And at a time when some religious conservatives have questioned Trump's faith, Perry explained his own views in terms of biblical teachings.

Rick Perry remarks

An excerpt of Rick Perry's prepared remarks to the Eagle Forum in St. Louis.

Rick Perry presidential campaign

As the longtime governor of a border state where nearly 40 percent of the people are Latino or Hispanic, Perry has long tried to strike a delicate balance on immigration-related issues. But his remarks Friday were certain to have greater reach because his decision to drop out of the race briefly put him at the center of the media's attention. And he proved that a candidate is often at his best when he stops worrying about winning.

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