Perry Struggles Again

Perry's Israel speech was a hit. But his debate performance? Not so much.


Eileen Smith

It was an up-and-down week for Rick Perry. The governor received tons of press for criticizing Obama’s policies toward Israel—a speech that was no doubt a big hit with Christian Zionists. But later in the week, he flubbed another debate performance. And now Mitt Romney’s looking better and better.

Let My People Go!

Evangelical Christians have long been steadfast supporters of Israel for obvious reasons. It’s a lone beacon of democracy in the Middle East. It is vital to our national security interests. And, according to evangelical belief, we need the Jewish people to control the Holy Land to bring on End Times and the Rapture. When that happens, according to this End Times scenario, all bets are off, and the Jews will have some explaining to do to Jesus about why they refused to accept Him as their Savior. (Jews for Jesus may have better luck.) If they continue to deny that Christ is the Messiah in the Last Days, Christian Zionists believe Jews will perish. Consider yourself warned.

Perry has always been a good friend—no, a best friend—to Israel. In 2007 Perry received the Friend of Zion award from the Global Leadership Council, which honors “leaders who have played key roles in promoting the close alliance between America and the Jewish state.” In a speech this week to Jewish-American leaders and conservative Israeli political figures in New York, Perry derided the Obama administration’s Middle East policy as “naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous,” and made it clear that he strongly opposes a Palestinian state. (President Obama also spoke against the Palestinian bid for statehood in front of the United Nations this week.) Perry stated that as a Christian he has a “clear directive to support Israel.” Indeed he does. San Antonio Pastor John Hagee, an avid Perry supporter and participant in The Response mega-prayer rally, founded the grassroots organization Christians United for Israel. The group’s  mission, among other things, is “to educate Christians about the Biblical and moral imperatives [of] supporting Israel.”

Hagee’s ministry alone has given millions of dollars to bring “Jewish exiles of the world home to Israel” from countries like Russia. The fusion of ideology and politics is nothing new, but Christian Zionists have taken it to the extreme, interfering in foreign policy based on their evangelical views and extremely literal interpretation of the Bible, not to mention prophesies. As if the Israeli-Palestinian peace process isn’t difficult enough. Peace in the Middle East? Not if Hagee and his ilk have anything to say about it.

False Prophecy

CNN contributor John Avlon predicts it’s still highly unlikely that Obama will lose the Jewish vote. In the 2008 election, close to 80 percent of Jewish Americans voted for him. Though Obama’s support among Jews has gone down, as in every other demographic, no Democrat has lost the Jewish vote in recent decades. That said, Florida will be a key state for Perry. Jewish senior citizens there will have to decide what’s more important—Social Security or the Second Coming.

Up for Debate

The Republican candidates gathered in Florida Thursday night for the Fox News/Google debate on the heels of a new Quinnipiac poll showing Perry with a small lead over Romney in the Sunshine State, 28 to 22 percent. However, asked to choose between just the two frontrunners, Perry increases his lead by eight points. In a potential match-up with President Obama, Romney tops Obama, 47 to 40 percent, while Perry is in a statistical dead heat with Obama, leading him by two points. These numbers highlight the dilemma facing the Republican Party: Who would be the better general election candidate?

Last night’s debate gave us a hint at the answer. It was Perry’s worst debate performance to date. He found himself on the defensive the entire time, especially relating to in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants and the HPV vaccine. At one point, referring to people who don’t agree with his position on college tuition, he stated, “I don’t think you have a heart.” While that may be true, it’s never smart to directly insult the very voters you’re trying to woo.

When asked again about his support for the HPV mandate, Perry replied that he’d been lobbied by a 31-year-old woman who had stage 4 cervical cancer. That’s not really true. Though he did meet with the woman, it has been reported on more than one occasion that the meeting didn’t occur until after he issued his executive order.

The governor’s defensiveness, combined with his inability to provide coherent answers to the questions ranging from the uninsured to foreign policy, is making Mitt Romney look more and more like the nominee. And that could be bad news for the president.