Did Homophobic Ad Derail Perry’s Presidential Aspirations?
Governor Rick Perry may be returning to Texas, or he may actually compete in South Carolina. We don’t know for sure, but observers seem more certain that a December ad in which he criticized gay servicemembers contributed to Perry’s lackluster performance in the Iowa caucuses that may have been the beginning of the end of his campaign.
"I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m Christian," said Perry in the Strong ad. "But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in schools."
The ad went viral, registering 25,000 likes and nearly 735,000 dislikes on YouTube.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans described the ad as divisive. It was also not the best move in terms of political strategy.
"It wasn’t just a gay consultant who said this was a bad idea, it was a host of other individuals on the campaign who said ’why would you want to run an ad like this?’" said Cooper.
Perry began his campaign in August by targeting a broad electorate, promising to run on jobs and the economy. Somewhere along the line that broad message went negative. Cooper said the Strong ad may have been the result of an all too apparent battle for direction within the Perry campaign.
Politics, said Cooper, is about addition, and candidates focused on division don’t tend to find success in a general election. And it only goes so far in Iowa.
"The Strong ad put the nail in the coffin for a number of Republican voters," said Cooper. "They were already concerned about his ability to transition from a state roll to a national role, there were questions about his skill set when it came to matters of foreign policy and national security, which are certainly outside his sphere as governor of Texas."
Michael Diviesti, state lead with GetEQUAL TX also referred to the Strong ad as the beginning of Perry’s downfall.
"Many asked why would you even bring that up about gays in the military," said Diviesti. "You can’t pander to the fringe element and win the presidency. He was obviously trying to use that video and the prayer rally to grab the extreme right fringe vote."
Iowa voters, it would seem, were asking similar questions. Perry gained just over 10 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s contest. Late that evening it seemed as though the Texas governor may bow out.
"With the voters’ decision tonight in Iowa, I decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight’s caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race," Perry told supporters there.
By Wednesday morning however, reports were coming out that Perry was on to South Carolina, skipping the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10. But that may not be the case either.
"There’s actually a dispute amongst his staff," said Cooper of whether Perry would be contemplating in Texas or campaigning in South Carolina. "There have been conflicting confirmations. Those communication issues usually indicate challenges within a campaign structure."
Following Perry’s poor performance in Iowa, Equality Texas said in a statement that his homophobic pandering did not resonate with Iowa voters just as it doesn’t match current public sentiment in the Lone Star State.
"Over 75 percent of Texas voters support prohibiting employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, and over 63 percent of Texas voters support legal recognition for same-gender couples," read the statement.
This leads to the question of should Perry’s campaign for the presidency end, what his political future in Texas will hold.
"It is possible he may be able to return to Austin unharmed," said Cooper. "That is yet to be seen. Other Republicans may see an opportunity to unseat him. He may decide not to seek another term."
Diviesti added that Perry continue to burn bridges "to get the fringe vote and it’s doing him harm."
"This could be a reflection of whether he could win his next gubernatorial race," he said. "He used to be able to hide who he was and do his campaigning at private parties behind closed doors. But now his ideology is out there for the world to see and one only needs to YouTube him during the next campaign to see who he really is."
A Divide Within the Party
A closer look at the results of the Iowa caucuses shows a divide in the Republican Party, largely along younger voters on social issues.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul largely captured the votes of millennials and Independents. The Baby Boomers went for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. While Santorum was able to do well in Iowa, political observers and analysts contend candidates with a divisive message will find that it may not resonate in New Hampshire or in a general election.
A WHDH/Suffolk University poll on Jan. 5 showed that Perry was last among major Republican candidates in New Hampshire, with only eight percent of likely GOP primary voters supporting Santorum.
Santorum recently said he also opposes the Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that struck down a ban on sodomy in Texas and 13 other states. Even though Santorum maintains he would not personally vote for a ban on sodomy, he said states should legally be able to pass such bans.
"Instead of saying ’marriage’ or ’partnership,’ Santorum uses divisive language like sodomy laws or sodomy protection," said Cooper. "It’s not going to play to his advantage. It will have a diminishing return."
Younger Independent and Republican voters, Cooper said, either don’t care or are supportive of equality issues, making the long-term prospects for candidates focusing on these issue bleak.
"You don’t have to be a gay conservative to be unhappy with the focus on social issues or attacking LGBT Americans," he said. "Using gay and lesbian Americans as a wedge is not going to score enough political points to win an election."