Gay Republican groups are fuming at Rick Perry over a pair of incidents they say reflect deep-seated hostility toward gay and lesbian Americans and disrespect for those who serve in the military.
Perry supporters maintain that the controversial television ad and press statement are consistent with Perry’s own deeply held beliefs. But they also acknowledge the underlying political calculation behind what gay groups claim is a cynical late-game ploy to sway evangelicals and social conservatives in Iowa ahead of the Jan. 3 caucuses.
The uproar started on Tuesday, when Perry responded to President Obama’s move to direct U.S. diplomats and foreign aid workers to prioritize human rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
“Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America's interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers' money,” Perry said in a statement, calling homosexuality “a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable.”
Perry’s campaign released a television ad the following day highlighting his Christian faith and vowing to end Obama’s “war on religion.”
“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 school,” the Texas governor says in the ad.
The head of Log Cabin Republicans, another major group of gay conservatives, blasted the ad, calling out Perry for drawing a false dichotomy between being religious and supporting equality in the military.
Meanwhile, Perry critics pointed out that barely 700 viewers had “liked” the video on YouTube, but almost 25,000 viewers had “disliked” it.
But while Perry has likely precluded any opportunity for substantial support from the gay community, his campaign might be willing to pay that price if it means attracting a second look from Iowa caucus-goers. The front-runner in Iowa for almost two months, Perry is now in the single digits, and spending millions on ads to bolster his bona fides as a true social conservative.
Perry’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
But an adviser to one of the PACs backing Perry said it was an attempt to stir the pot among a voting bloc that could make or break the first-in-the-nation caucuses for Perry.
“I’m surprised, but it makes sense,” the adviser said. “He’s got a short window to start moving numbers. The way to move them in Iowa is to go socially conservative.”
And Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist who is backing Perry, said the ad reflected values so important to Perry that he was likely willing to accept the risk of alienating general-election voters by spurning gay rights.
“In terms of where the country is now and where it is headed over the next 10-20 years, he may not be on firm footing, but this is a deeply held personal belief,” Mackowiak said. “I don’t think he cares about the polling on it.”