You can tell a lot about a person by what they think will make you happy. If every time you fight with your husband he tries to give you a pretty necklace, yours may not be the relationship of mutual respect you want it to be. We’ve all known people whose attempts to please us are less nuanced than they think. Perhaps Rick Perry is no such cynical manipulator. Maybe he’s more like the aunt who took you to a Cubs game once and now sends you jerseys and Harry Caray biographies every Christmas. Whatever he’s up to, Perry decided this week that abortions shouldn’t be legal even in cases of rape or incest, then walked back his position to theoretically allow them when a woman’s life was at risk. He also produced his last campaign advertisement before the Iowa caucuses. Video after the jump.
You know his record: he created a million jobs in Texas, proposed a part-time Congress and fought back against Obama’s war on religion. Like his attempt to use the Texas governorship to set the federal legislative calendar—which I presume that state’s constitution empowers him to do—exactly how he fought back against O’s W on R remains vague. Mostly he’s done it by repeatedly reminding every Iowa resident and his son—who just wants to take advantage of being in a house with a television in it to watch The Simpsons in syndication, dammit—that he loves Jesus.
At the :13 mark of this video, we see Governor Perry speaking from the pulpit of a church. It’s one of two shots of Perry before the cross, which is a disturbing image to those of us who fancy the president something other than leader of our nation’s faithful. We of those don’t live in Iowa. Evangelical Christians exert inordinate influence here, as evidenced by Mike Huckabee’s win in the 2008 caucuses and Rick Santorum’s recent surge in statewide polls.
The nature of the caucus system, in which registered Republicans meet at a specified place and time and have the opportunity to convince one another whom to support, lends itself to Christian strength. Say what you will about church people; they A) show up and B) don’t stop talking to you. One of the criticisms of the Iowa caucuses is that they overrepresent the extremes of the party—the Ron Pauls, the Santorums, the people whose beliefs are totalizing enough that they will leave the house on January 3rd in Iowa and stay our for several hours. It is normally very cold here in January. But it is rarely so cold that people skip church.
Rick Perry knows that, and he seems to be spending his Iowa endgame budget to make himself as much like church as possible. In so doing, he buys into the narrative most commonly cited as a reason the Iowa caucuses should be ignored. That narrative introduces a difficult catch-22 for the pledge from Texas. If he can’t do well here, his campaign is pretty much done. If he wins, his evangelism will be taken as proof that Iowa is out of touch with the rest of the nation. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which Perry’s generalship in an imagined war to defend Christianity pays off.
As of this morning, Perry is two points ahead of Michele Bachmann and five behind Rick Santorum. Such polls are hardly reliable, but it’s worth noting that the two front-runners, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, are arguably the ones who have made religion the least of their public personae. The conventional wisdom about Iowa Republicans may be wrong. If it turns out to be right and one of the three churchy candidates wins, then the other half of the conventional wisdom—that people here are a bunch of hicks—will kick in and make that win less meaningful. Either way, Rick Perry is in trouble. And he’s still wearing the jacket from Brokeback Mountain. I wish he could quit us.