The Big Conversation:
Once again, intense backlash has caught the Rick Perry campaign flat-footed.
Opposition to Perry's new ad denouncing the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and declaring that he'll end "Obama's war on religion" took on new life Thursday as critics slammed the governor for pandering to evangelical Christians.
The ad, which has drawn more than 2 million views online (and, as The Huffington Post notes, now has racked up more "dislikes" on YouTube than Rebecca Black's "Friday" music video), has inspired dozens of videos, animations and photos mocking Perry, who says in the spot, "You don’t need to be in the pews 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 school."
In one parody video produced by the improv comedy group Second City, comedian Andy Cobb says, "You know there’s something wrong with this country when politicians think it’s okay to hate on gays and nonbelievers in ads." The video has been viewed more than half a million times.
Meanwhile, trouble for Team Perry escalated when The Huffington Post reported that the campaign had produced the ad over the objections of Perry's top pollster, Tony Fabrizio, who, along with Liz Mair, one of the governor's consultants, has pushed gay-rights causes within the Republican Party.
"It is the height of hypocrisy for Tony Fabrizio to have been a part of that," Jimmy LaSalvia, the co-founder and executive director of GOProud, a gay conservative group, told the Post. "He has lined his pockets for years with money from the gay community to conduct polls to ostensibly help gay people in this country, and for him to be a part of this is the height of Washington hypocrisy. It is absolutely what is wrong with Washington. It is all about the payday for these people."
Fabrizio, who reportedly had called the ad "nuts," acknowledged that the ad had made him uneasy. But "if you start answering personal attacks," he said of his critics, "you are just rewarding the attacker."
The dispute and online buzz threatened to overshadow the unveiling of Perry's newest ad, in which he hits Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on health care, and news that the governor will embark on a "wall-to-wall" bus tour of Iowa in hopes of improving his standing in the crucial caucus state.
- Larry Sager, the dean of the University of Texas School of Law, resigned Thursday at the urging of UT President Bill Powers, as the Tribune's Reeve Hamilton and Morgan Smith reported. The decision by Powers, who said concerns about Sager's management of the law school had mounted, came as an extensive open-records request relating to Sager's handling of compensation had stirred what Powers called "deep divisions" among faculty members. Several women at the law school had also filed sexual discrimination complaints, complaining of a gender pay gap.
- Rick Perry announced Thursday that he would "respectfully decline" to participate in the Dec. 27 Republican debate moderated by Donald Trump. "Traditional retail campaigning in the days and weeks leading up to the Iowa caucus is the Perry campaign’s top priority," Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said in a statement. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann also announced Thursday that she wouldn't participate, joining the several candidates — Mitt Romney, Jon Hunstman and Ron Paul — who had already declined the invitation.
- Politico reports today that Ron Paul's presidential campaign hopes that a long-haul primary strategy, coupled with the candidate's fundraising prowess and devoted following, will carry the congressman through the early-state primaries and caucuses and into, at least, Super Tuesday. "Our campaign has a comprehensive plan to win the delegates needed to either secure the nomination or enter into a brokered convention in Tampa," said Jesse Benton, Paul's campaign manager. Paul, who has assembled teams in 12 caucus states through March 6 and on Wednesday announced the openings of five new offices, hopes to take advantage of new GOP primary rules allowing candidates to accumulate delegates in states without finishing in first place.
- As the Austin American-Statesman reports, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles' governing board on Thursday approved a new license plate bearing the phrase "One State Under God" and the images of three Christian crosses, renewing the debate over free speech that raged last month as the board rejected a proposal for a plate displaying the Confederate flag. Meanwhile, on Thursday, the group pushing for the Confederate plate, Sons of Confederate Veterans, filed suit against the governing board, saying its First and 14th Amendment rights had been violated.
"I didn't make an oath just to my wife. I made an oath to God when I married my wife." — Rick Perry on Newt Gingrich's three marriages
- Michael Williams, long a rising GOP star, suddenly has few good options, Austin American-Statesman
- The Real G.O.P. Dark Horse: None of the Above, FiveThirtyEight
- Unregulated Religious Colleges Stir Fears of Diploma Mills, The Texas Tribune