As a candidate for president in 2011, Perry made his religious faith a cornerstone of his campaign, beginning with “The Response,” a prayer rally Perry hosted in Houston in August 2011 for a crowd of roughly 30,000 worshippers. Held just one week before Perry announced his bid for president, the event set the tone for his candidacy.
Perry might have been looking to emulate Mike Huckabee’s 2008 campaign for president, which had combined Huckabee’s religious appeal as a former Baptist pastor with his executive experience as governor of Arkansas. Perry is himself a devout Christian, who worships at an evangelical mega church.
That strategy culminated in Perry’s famous “Strong” advertisement. The ad, which aired on television in Iowa, also became a viral sensation: To date, it has racked up more than 9 million views on YouTube. . . .Today, Perry does not explicitly disown the ad — but neither does he back it.
“There’s nothing that’s changed in my belief cycle,” Perry told RealClearPolitics. “I happen to think marriage is between one man and one woman, and I do think that there’s some real challenges with trying to change socially the structure of our military.”
But would Perry say Americans face a “war on religion”?
“I think that religious freedom needs to be protected in this country,” he said in response, an implicit “no.” “We passed a religious freedom act in Texas in 1999, and I do believe that the Judeo-Christian values that this country was based upon are very much important not only to the history of this country, but the future of this country.”
At the recent Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, Perry “said nothing in his own speech about the upcoming landmark ruling on same-sex marriage, and instead focused primarily on matters unrelated to religion. In an interview afterward, Perry suggested he would not pursue a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, should the Supreme Court rule in favor of same-sex marriage.” He reasoned: “My record on traditional marriage is very clear. I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve changed the Constitution of the United States. So, I work with the reality that that is a very, very long process. I think a more appropriate focus for those of us that are running for the presidency of the United States is to remind people that the next president of the United States could appoint up to three people on the Supreme Court.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Huckabee calls for defiance of a ruling holding that gay marriage is protected by the 14th Amendment. He claims that we’re on the verge of criminalizing Christianity. Along with his anti-market views on trade, immigration and anti-entitlement reform, he’s taking himself out of consideration for the presidency by all but a small segment of the party. It happens to be the same segment that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Ben Carson, Rick Santorum and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are courting. None is a top-tier candidate for president.
In the top tier of the GOP 2016 field, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is just beginning to define his views on a variety of subjects. He will need to react to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, explain his views on trade and immigration and set out his position on a host of issues. The temptation from vocal commentators may be to head right, in Huckabee’s direction. By why compete for the already over-served sliver of the party?
Walker would be wise to follow Perry’s approach: Don’t drop his views, but do avoid outlandish and off-putting rhetoric; emphasize what his focus will be, not what a fringe of the party wants to fixate on; embrace globalism and smart economic policy; and be respectful of the courts and of fellow Americans.
Walker’s decision as to which path he follows will determine his success in 2016. His best bet is being on the right flank of the top tier, not the biggest name among the small fry.