Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked by George Stephanopoulos on ABC about his wife’s comments that he was being “brutalized” because of his faith:

Stephanopoulos didn’t exactly get a straight answer as to whether Perry felt victimized because of his faith. And when Perry is pressed to denounce actual bigotry, he hides behind freedom of speech. Huh? “I’m not going to say he can’t say what he wants to say.” That’s nonsense. No one is shutting up Pastor Robert Jeffress; the question is whether the pastor’s words are bigoted. Would he say the same about anti-Semitic or anti-Hispanic remarks?

The Fix’s Chris Cillizza tweeted, “Perry’s continued refusal to denounce Jeffress is odd. Ensures that he keeps getting asked about it and it stays in news.” It sure does. That was the headline on the ABC story, not Perry’s belated rollout of his jobs plan. Even Perry’s criticism of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan got lost in the shuffle.

I went back to the Perry camp to ask what attacks were launched because of the governor’s faith. Spokesman Mark Miner responded by e-mail: “Mrs. Perry was expressing her feeling and opinions and did not refer to a particular attack.” In other words, no one has actually attacked Perry for his faith. I also asked why he wouldn’t join prominent conservative leaders like Gary Bauer and Bill Bennett in denouncing the remarks. Miner would only say, “The governor has said he disagreed with the pastor’s remarks.” But if Jeffress had said Jews shouldn’t be president, I would assume Perry would have denounced that; so why are Jeffress’s anti-Mormon comments any different? Miner seemed stumped and never answered whether he would denounce and not merely disagree with such sentiments.

As I noted yesterday, the failure to denounce religious bigots is not simply a Mormon issue. JTA, the Jewish news service, reports today:

Most galling for Jewish Republicans are the potshots that proxies for [Romney’s] rivals are taking at Romney’s Mormon faith. The latest salvo came over the weekend at the Value Voters Summit in Washington when Robert Jeffress, a pastor at a Dallas megachurch who supports Perry, the Texas governor, called Mormonism a cult.

“I can’t believe as a Jew that anyone is going to be involved in someone’s religion,” Mel Sembler, a shopping center magnate and leading Republican donor who is backing Romney, told JTA. “What’s that got to do with running the biggest enterprise in the world?”

Miner says he disagrees with this “premise”and that “Perry has a long and strong relationship with the Jewish community, based on friendship, familiarity, faith and public policy. We expect that relationship to strengthen in the days and years ahead.” He might get ready for a request to denounce religious bigotry, as the Anti-Defamation League called on him and other candidates to do.

This is not Perry’s worst problem, but it sure is emblematic of his incompetent campaign. Consider the fact that only when his poll numbers have plummeted and no one much cares does he roll out a jobs plan. He allows the Jeffress issue to fester, irking voters who could be receptive to his message. He was unprepared to defend policies like tuition breaks for illegal immigrants and his enterprise funds that bear an eerie resemblance to Solyndra. (As Kim Strassel writes, “Mr. Perry’s response has been to say that ‘the federal government shouldn’t be involved in that kind of investment, period,’ but that it is ‘fine for states’ to pick winners and losers in the economy.”)

A presidential campaign is not the same as the presidency. We sure learned that with Barack Obama. But if you can’t survive criticism by fellow conservative; prepare for debates; extinguish negative stories and roll out policies on a timely basis, how are you supposed to function as president, let alone win the presidency?