Rick Perry, the Christocrat Favorite for President?

As Newt Gingrich’s Great Presidential Implosion of 2011 unfolds before our eyes, Republicans are on the hunt for a new prospect. At Politico, Mike Allen (noting, as I did yesterday, that icky feeling Republicans get about the over-the-top religiosity of the religious right favorites), sees a movement afoot to draft Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. And other rumors include Texas Governor Rick Perry.

As far as the religious right goes, let’s dispense with Daniels. He first called for a “truce” on the “social issues,” then attempted to placate angry religious right powerbrokers, apparently, by signing a bill defunding Planned Parenthood in his state. But then he floated Condoleezza Rice as a running mate — and the religious right leadership slapped back because they think she’s “pro-abortion.”

Enter Perry. He’s got impecable Christian right credentials. He’s the Republican governor where the state GOP first included a provision in its platform declaring America a Christian nation. (David Barton, after all, was the vice-chair of the party at the time). Back in the days when Rod Parsley was the megachurch man about town, and proclaiming himself not a Democrat or a Republican but a “Christocrat,” Perry included him in a controversial 2005 Sunday bill-signing ceremony. The governor, with Parsley, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association on hand, signed a parental notification bill and a gay marriage ban into law at the Fort Worth Calvary Christian Academy. Parsley graced the ceremonies with the statement that gay sex is “a veritable breeding ground of disease.”

Perry has appeared at a conference hosted by Bill Gothard’s controversial Institute in Basic Life Principles. (They share a generous funder, James Leininger, a key funder of the Texas culture wars.) In 2006, Perry, then campaigning for governor, prayed at John Hagee’s church, and then agreed with Hagee that non-Christians are doomed to hell.

Perry appeared to be the beneficiary of the Texas Restoration Project, organized by religious right activists intent on getting pastors more involved in the electoral process. Or, as organizer David Lane told me, “What we’re doing is the mobilization of pastors and pews to restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage. That’s our goal.”

In 2008, the Texas Freedom Network asked the IRS to investigate the non-profit group behind the Restoration Project for illegal electioneering by featuring only Perry but not other gubernatorial candidates. (The IRS did not take the matter up, although it rarely finds wrongdoing in such matters.) The Texas Restoration Project inspired Restoration Projects and Renewal Projects in other states, which held similar “briefings” for pastors which, in 2008, featured only Mike Huckabee, much to the chagrin of the other GOP candidates. In 2012, they have expanded their candidate invitation list.

In 2008, Perry—possibly in a preview of the focus of a presidential run—invited pastors to a Policy Briefing by invoking Islamophobia (via the Texas Freedom Network):

Both our nation and our Judeo Christian heritage are under attack by a force that is more dangerous than any threat our world has faced in recent memory. I am convinced that our ability to defeat the radical jihadists who threaten our nation will be significantly impacted by the prayers and leadership of America’s evangelical pastors.

“Rediscovering God in America” was created to inspire people of faith to engage the culture and bring America back to our worldwide standing as a beacon of hope, a city shining on a hill.

Because God entrusted you to care for and lead His flock, you can play a key role in restoring God to the center of American life, thus strengthening our nation to confront this looming threat.

While Congress occupies its time trying to legislate defeat in Iraq, we hope you will attend a Pastors’ Policy Briefing that will equip you to walk point in the war of values and ideas.

Rediscovering God in America-Austin is intended to remind us that excuses are not the proper strategy when facing evil and confronting enemies. Instead, we must rally godly people and seek God’s provision for the resources, the courage, and the strength necessary to win and, ultimately, glorify Him.

“Rediscovering God in America” was Newt Gingrich’s particular contribution to the Pastors’ Policy Briefings. Even if his bid for the GOP nomination goes down in flames, his fingerprints will be all over the campaign.