It’s safe to assume that when Rick Perry calls someone a “progressive,” he doesn’t mean it as a compliment. And the Perry campaign is now pinning that word directly on Mitt Romney’s forehead — as an epithet.

The Perry camp is seizing on the 2002 video that surfaced today in which Romney described his views as “progressive,” in order to make the case that Romney is, well, “progressive.” Doesn’t take that much of a leap, does it? Asked for comment on the video, Perry campaign spokesperson Liz Mair emailed:

“It’s no surprise that Mitt Romney would have described himself as having progressive views: A quick look at his record shows that he pursued plenty of progressive policies as governor, including notably raising business taxes, the individual mandate to purchase health insurance and global warming policies. In fact, Mr. Romney and Speaker Gingrich share progressive policies on government mandated health insurance and climate change. Only Governor Perry, who is an outsider to Washington and the establishment, has the consistently conservative record on fiscal and social issues that GOP voters want.”

“He pursued plenty of progressive policies as governor.” Ouch! Doesn’t get dirtier than that. And note the shot at Newt as “progressive,” too.

Speaking of Romney’s past progressivism, here’s a bit more on what he used to believe about gay rights. As you know, Romney got into a spirited exchange with a gay veteran yesterday that has now gone viral, in which Romney told him he didn’t believe in spousal benefits for partners of gay soldiers who have served the country in war, because marriage is “between a man and a woman.”

On that last point, Romney doesn’t seem to have wavered. But back in 1994, he stated that “full equality” for gays and lesbians should be a goal, and even said he’d be a better Senator on gay rights than Ted Kennedy, who he was challenging at the time.

In a 1994 letter to the Log Cabin Club of Massachusetts that was obtained way back when by the Boston Globe that has been mostly forgotten, then-Senate candidate Romney said:

As a result of our discussions and other interactions with gay and lesbian voters across the state, I am more convinced than ever before that as we seek to establish full equality for America’s gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent.

Romney’s previous quotes and his shifts on the issues are often presented as evidence that he has never had core beliefs and will say and do anything to win. But it seems clear that Romney sincerely held relatively progressive beliefs on issues like gay rights, health care, and climate change, back during his time as a politician in Massachusetts. In other words, he sincerely was a liberal Republican. After all, there were a lot of liberal Republicans in the northeast in those days. He was one of them, before jettisoning those views in service of his national ambitions, and conservatives like Perry are right to scoff at his claim that he’s always been one of them.