Rick Perry has raced to the top of the polls in part on the basis of his overt religiosity. He seems to be filling the role from which Michele Bachmann has fallen – the candidate that speaks plainly about faith and calls it like it is.
Well, in last night’s debate, Perry was certainly confrontational and plain speaking. His direct confrontations with Romney have become THE meme of the show, but it was his petulance at Karl Rove and Ron Paul that defined his performance in my mind. Needless to say the left-leaning press is, as we predicted, using the confrontation with Romney to drive a wedge into the party generally, one they hope will divide us sufficiently to prevent a win in the general.
That wedge has a distinct religious angle to it – Perry the firebrand Evangelical vs Romney the calm, cool, collected and establishment Mormon. It is more than a bit ironic that the Mormon is cast as the establishment is it not? Religion played virtually no role in last night’s debate. Perry’s Galileo crack was as close as it got – a bit of irony in that as well, on multiple levels. (Brian Williams “Catholic” lead into a question to Rick Santorum does not count, it was not really a question about religion.) This was in stark contrast to the Labor Day Palmetto Freedom Forum in which Perry did not participate, staying home in Texas to deal with the wildfire emergency. Although I must say it is an interesting choice that Perry remained in Texas to deal with the emergency for the forum that was social issue heavy, but found time to get to the debate that was not, even though the fires still rage in Texas. Religious discussion conveniently avoided.
But Perry did get asked some religious questions yesterday. It came before the debate in an interview he did with Hugh Hewitt:
HH: Now Governor Perry, you’ve attracted a lot of criticism. The New York Times’ Bill Keller, who’s now a columnist, used to be their editor, says you’re a dominionist. And Dana Milbank of the Washington Post says you’re a theocrat. What do you put down to these attacks, particularly those on your religion?
RP: Well obviously, they’re real scared of me, is what I would say. And they understand that America is longing for someone who stands up and tells it like it is, someone who know what they believe in, someone who is not afraid of the left. And I’m not going to cower, whether it’s someone who’s writing for any of the mainstream media. If they want to attack me, have at it. But I know what I believe in, and I’m going to go forward, full-bore, full tilt, because I believe in America. I know that our best days are in front of us, and I know if you’ll free up the American entrepreneur, and clearly tell them, listen, you risk your capital, and you’re going to have an opportunity to have a return on your investment, our best days are ahead of us. The greatest exploit in America’s history has not been written, yet, because we have that type of spirit in this country. And you know, write what they will. I know what I believe in, and I think I’m on the better side of the angels on this one, because I truly know that America believes that we have the work ethic, the values…we just need to be freed from these federal government regulations that are killing jobs, and sending the message that don’t risk your capital, because you’re not going to have a chance to have a return on your investment.
Let’s see, Perry was asked a direct question about the most truly pressing religio-political question of the day and he was completely non-responsive – COMPLETELY! He retreats to his talking points, and brushes this off as an attack. Does he defend the place of faith in America? – no. Does he address the charges of “dominionist” or “theocrat”? – no. Does he even use the words “God” or “Jesus Christ” as a part of “what he believes in?” – no.
I am not going to begin to try and fathom Perry’s game here, but I am going to say as someone interested in preserving the place of religiosity in American politics, this does not sound like the guy that I want debating on my behalf. Set up with a great question, by a religion friendly questioner to a religion friendly audience Perry had the perfect opportunity to stand up for all of us of faith and our voice. He failed miserably. He appears to be running away from the discussion altogether.