The wait is over! Rick Perry will host his much-buzzed about Christian prayer-fest “The Response” in Houston on Saturday, where participants will ask for divine help to overcome America’s myriad problems.
“A historic crisis facing our nation and threatening our future demands a historic response from the church,” Perry said in a video recorded to promote the event. “We must, as a people, return to the faith and hope of our fathers. The ancient paths of great men were blazed in prayer - the humility of the truly great men of history was revealed in their recognition of the power and might of Jesus to save all who call on His great name.”
It’s a far cry from the Perry of 2002, who was described in a Texas Monthly profile as reluctant to discuss his faith in public. Asked how his religion informed his politics, he replied: “I don’t think it does, particularly.”
But Saturday’s uber-religious event is the culmination of a month in which the likely presidential candidate has decisively recommitted himself to social conservatives after flirting with a more secular image. Known for his intense devotion to state rights, Perry’s federalism threatened to sour his appeal with the religious right last month after he offered a hearty endorsement of New York’s right to legalize gay marriage.
“That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me,” he said at the time. “That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”
He quickly backtracked, however, telling Family Research Council president Tony Perkins last week that he supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in order to overturn New York’s decision. “Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me,” he said.
Continuing his contrition tour, he offered up similar support for an amendment banning abortion in an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network after proudly insisting states should be allowed to handle the issue themselves only days earlier.
“You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then something that doesn’t suit you say, ‘We’d rather not have states decide that,” Perry told reporters last week in Texas before his change of heart.
For Perry, “The Response” is not without its risks. According to the Associated Press, only 8,000 of the 71,500 seats at the stadium hosting the event have been booked, creating a potentially embarrassing situation if attendance is low. Some of the attending religious leaders have expressed views that may not play well for a national audience — for example, one pastor participating in the event has condemned the Statue of Liberty as a “demonic idol” and “false goddess” sent to turn Americans away from religion.
But the rewards are just as clear: if Perry can steal some of Michele Bachmann’s magic with social conservatives while attracting a healthy portion of establishment GOP voters he could be a formidable challenger to Mitt Romney in any number of states. “The Response” will be his best chance to make a splash with Christian voters ahead of a possible presidential announcement later the same month.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.