Rick Perry’s Strategic Mistake

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Rick Perry is telling RealClearPolitics (no MSM source) he is downplaying “religious” issues this election cycle, unlike the last one, to focus his attention elsewhere, explaining why religion never came up in his Faith and Freedom speech last week. (Hat tip: Newsmax).

Perry says his record is “very clear” and that “[t]here’s nothing that’s changed in my belief cycle.” But rather than focusing on changing a gay marriage ruling, he’s going to remind voters “the next president of the United States could appoint up to three people to the Supreme Court.”

In the Social Conservative Insider Poll (consisting of 25 major leaders or thought leaders), several leaders pointed out how unsatisfying it is to be reminded of that, given the decisive vote for gay marriage on the Supreme Court was appointed by a Republican.

GOP presidential candidates who assume their past record is going to carry them through this crowded election cycle are making a big mistake.  The majority of social conservative leaders in the Social Conservative Insider Poll are looking for  someone who can articulate the case for natural marriage, and although the Supreme Court has the last word on this case, it does not have the last word on marriage.  Other conservatives are looking for someone whose positions don’t shift with the political winds.

But more importantly, the weight of the social conservative movement is shifting to practical protections to prevent the next Democratic president from stripping our schools, ministries, and nonprofits of tax-exempt status as happened after the Supreme Court ruled (justly) that bans on interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

Ritual support for a constitutional amendment is nice, but by a 3-1 majority, social conservative insiders preferred legislation like the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) that could be passed in the first 100 days of a Republican administration—and immediate executive actions to prevent government discrimination against traditional believers.

Jeb Bush oddly understands what Perry does not: Your past record as a champion is not going to substitute for a willingness to engage with the powerful new forces, including the corporate ones, that are seeking to redefine traditional Christian views on sex and marriage as the legal and cultural equivalent of racism.

One thing that will kill a GOP candidate is the statement “the Court has ruled it’s time to move on to other issues.” The other is failing to offer a remedy to the pressures on employment and speech and organization now descending.

Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at American Principles in Action.