At a Tax Day rally on April 16, 2009, Rick Perry cleverly got himself mired in a “secession” controversy that drew the ire of the mainstream media. That controversy, which put Perry staunchly on the side of 10th Amendment conservatives who were fed up with an overreaching federal government and against the mainstream media and the Republican establishment, also helped him easily defeat establishment Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in the primary.
Perry is hoping lightning will strike twice, and that the outrage ginned up from “The Response,” which was his day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium in Houston, will draw him the same type of scorn from groups conservatives hate–as the “secession” controversy did–and galvanize religious conservatives (Evangelicals) in Iowa and South Carolina, where those voters make up close to half of Republican primary voters.
On Saturday, Perry’s event, which was part Christian rock concert and part megachurch service, drew about 30,000 people at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The impressive figure was less than half of the stadium’s capacity and a little more than what megachurch preachers draw on Sundays. It did show, though, how formidable a candidate Perry will be not only in the primaries but in the general election where Hispanics make up the fastest growing bloc of Evangelical voters. Further, Perry’s compassion in signing the Texas version of the DREAM Act in 2001 that gave in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, will make him appealing to moderates, independents, and Hispanic voters much in the way a Jon Huntsman candidacy would.
“Our hearts do break for those who suffer, those afflicted by the loss of loved ones, the pain of addiction, the strife that they may find at home, those who have lost jobs, who have lost their homes, people who have lost hope,” Perry said, before adding that “because we know a loving God, we know the greatest darkness comes just before the morning.”
Perry movingly spoke of a God who works to wipe away darkness and said that “this loving and perfect God is also a personal God” who “desires not a show of religion, but a deep connection with our innermost being” for his agenda is not a political agenda” but rather a “salvation agenda.”
“Father our heart breaks for America,” Perry said. “We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see angers in the halls of government. And as a nation we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness.”
Perry ended his remarks by praying for President Barack Obama.
“Father we pray for our president, that you would impart your wisdom upon him, that you would guard his family.”
Perry also prayed “for those special operators who lost their life yesterday in defending our freedoms.”
If Perry wins Iowa and South Carolina after he enters the presidential race, which is more than likely to happen before the end of this month, the Day of Prayer may be to the 2012 primary what a Tax Day rally may have been to his 2010 gubernatorial primary.
“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said then to reporters after the rally. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”
Those at the rally chanted “secede,” which Perry, always the clever and sharp politician, later claimed to have heard to mean “succeed.”
It’s this Texas two-step routine that has been a hallmark of Perry’s political career that represents his greatest strength and weakness for it shows his political savvy but also puts him at risk of being labeled “inauthentic.”
“The Response” was just one more step in Perry’s dance routine that may turn out to be the one that propels him to the Republican nomination if/when he formally declares his candidacy.