Behind the Scenes, Christian Right Leaders Rally Behind Rick Perry

July 8, 2011

By , Time

In early June, TIME has learned, a group of prominent figures on the Christian Right held a conference call to discuss their dissatisfaction with the current GOP presidential field, and agreed that Rick Perry would be their preferred candidate if he entered the race. Among those on the call were David Barton, the Texas activist and go-to historian for the Christian Right and John Hagee, the controversial San Antonio pastor whose endorsement John McCain rejected in 2008.

Religious conservatives have often played a substantial role in choosing past Republican nominees, but leaders on the Christian Right have been conspicuously quiet so far in this campaign season. Privately, however, they are enthusiastic about Perry and are encouraging the Texas governor to throw his ten-gallon hat into the ring.

Perry’s favor with the Christian Right is relatively new, and he is their candidate of choice as much by default as anything. Many leaders had hoped that Mike Huckabee would make a second run for the nomination and give them a fellow religious conservative (and a Southerner) to support. When Huckabee chose to sit out the race and Haley Barbour stepped aside as well, some Christian Right bigwigs considered throwing their support behind Newt Gingrich.

The former Speaker has made religious freedom for Christians his signature issue over the past few years. And more importantly, Gingrich needs religious conservatives more than they need him — he might feel indebted to that constituency if he won, the thinking went. But as Gingrich’s campaign operation seems to have shrunk to a few interns and wife Callista’s Twitter feed, alarmed Christian Right leaders have sought to find a new–preferably electable–candidate to carry the social conservative banner.

What’s wrong with the existing crop of candidates? Tim Pawlenty has the support of evangelical leaders outside the Christian Right–in a recent survey of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals, 45% named Pawlenty as their preferred GOP nominee. However, that impressive result may have something to do with the fact that the NAE president, Leith Anderson, is Pawlenty’s pastor and may not be representative of broader evangelical opinion. Mitt Romney ran into problems with evangelicals in 2008 because of his Mormon faith, and his recent refusal to sign an anti-abortion organization’s campaign pledge did nothing to win over his critics.

Meanwhile, no one questions the social conservative credentials of Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann. But Santorum’s poll numbers in Iowa are smaller than the number of children he has. And while Bachmann has been on a hot streak since the first candidate’s debate, Christian Right leaders continue to be far less willing to embrace her (or Sarah Palin, for that matter) than the rank-and-file or more secular politicos. Is that sexism at work? Possibly. Maybe even probably. But geography is an important factor as well. Many Christian Right leaders think the GOP primary schedule favors a Southern candidate. And southern Minnesota does not count.

So, come on down, Rick Perry! He may be the favorite by default, but the Texas governor is also a terrific match for the Christian Right. Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches recently outlined Perry’s social conservative bona fides and they’re impressive:

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3 Comments - what are your thoughts?

  • McCarthy says:

    What we need is an undercover CONSERVATIVE who can entice the moderate demos into voting for him/her/it. They need to shut the phuk up about abortion and as far as the christain thing goes that is a turn off to most voters. Even the most church going blacks vote their wallet and not their morality. People like Palin are a laughing stock to anyone outside of the Republican Party. Lets get real about winning elections.

  • M2HB says:

    The “REAL” Rick Perry Exposed! (just another status quo politician)

    If you’re anything like me, you’ve been watching the various Republican Presidential candidates struggle to claim the mantle of “Constitutional Conservative” with some trepidation.

    Who, among the candidates, actually supports our Constitutional rights?

    Let me tell you, it’s easy to be sucked in by the latest fad candidate — beloved by the talking heads on TV and radio. Remember that the “beautiful people” in the establishment, political class lie to us for a reason.

    They want our support, and will do or say anything to keep it, all the while continuing to protect the apparatus of state that provides them with power.

    This is an important lesson for gun owners, who are perpetually the target of Big Government, anti-liberty advocates.

    Take Texas Governor Rick Perry for example. From the fawning adulation he’s received from “conservatives” in the media over his flirtation with entering the Presidential race, you’d think he was the second coming of John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and John Galt all put together.

    The political establishment doesn’t want to let the truth get in the way of a good story — or “political narrative,” as the hacks call it.

    Despite the veneer of “conservative” and “liberty” language that Perry uses, his patronage by the Big Government Bush family and his record tell a completely different story.

    In response to the outrageous invasions of privacy by the Transportation Safety Authority (TSA), liberty-loving conservatives in Texas were trying to outlaw TSA’s “grope-or-radiate” airport security policy — a clear government assault on your rights.

    The policy requires all those traveling by air to submit either to physical pat-downs, which are little more than government sponsored sexual assaults, or invasive and radiation-heavy, semi-pornographic body scans.

    There is no question that blocking the use of the “grope-or-radiate” security policy is the right thing to do; heck, even the executive director of the Texas Republican Party pleaded with Perry for passage of the bill.

    However, Governor Perry and his stooges in the Texas Legislature decided to play political games with your freedom.

    An open record request shows that in a few short days, Governor Perry received over 10,000 e-mails and letters insisting he support the legislation to rein in the TSA. He received only 13 letters in favor of keeping the radiation scanners.

    Despite the overwhelming support, Perry delayed.

    Taking a page out of the establishment playbook, he claimed that there was a lack of “consensus,” knowing full well all he had to do was delay long enough for the legislative session to end.

    Instead of standing up for the liberties and privacy of the people of Texas, Governor Perry and his Big Government accomplices waited until the last day of the session to bring the legislation to the floor, assuring it wouldn’t have enough time to pass both chambers.

    Despite intentionally delaying the bill and instructing his accomplices in the Texas Legislature to repeatedly try to poison the bill with amendments, Perry continues to tell everyone on the national stage that he supported the bill.

    This is a prime of example of how establishment politicians like Governor Perry try to dupe citizens like you and me. On the one hand they claim to be liberty-minded conservatives, while at the same time, fighting to protect and expand the power of government behind the closed doors of the legislature.

    Why does this matter? It’s simple.

    Gun rights activists MUST oppose ANY attempts by the Federal government to usurp liberty in the name of safety, because ultimately, that same power will be used to ban or greatly restrict gun owners and gun ownership.

    Perry and company managed to manipulate the system so that every member could cast a vote in support of the pro-liberty bill — and clean their skirts with the voters at home — without the fear that it might actually pass and limit the authority of government.

    This sort of establishment calculation is designed specifically to provide cover to weak politicians who can go home to their districts and tell their constituents that they voted the “right” way — and the beast that is our government continues to grow.

  • 2nd Supporter says:

    Just Great! Let’s just alienate all those fence sitting moderates with a healthy dose of Bible thumpin… can’t the “Christian Right” just shutup for once about they’re religion and stick to the issues. This is all gonna crash & burn from a perponderance of in-fighting among GOP candidates…

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