What he said is less interesting on the merits than it is as a sign of how his strategy’s changed since 2012.
The Texas Republican Party this month adopted a platform supporting access to “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians, a widely discredited process intended to change sexual orientation. In response to an audience question about it Wednesday night, Perry said he did not know whether the therapy worked.
Commonwealth Club interviewer Greg Dalton then asked him whether he believes homosexuality is a disorder.
“Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that,” Perry said. “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”
The large crowd gathered at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill included many Perry supporters. But the comment still drew a murmur of disbelief.
That was Wednesday night. Watch the first clip below to see where he was just a day later. He hasn’t disowned what he said, but you can feel him almost physically wince at the fact that he let himself get sidetracked by an issue that has nothing to do with what he’s got cooking for his next campaign. In fact, one interesting subplot to Perry 2.0 is how, in a broad way, it may resemble Romney 2.0. Remember, Mitt ran as a strong social conservative in 2008; he flamed out because (a) social conservatism was a minor matter in an election dominated by Iraq and, later, the financial crisis and (b) if you were eager to back a social con with moderate leanings, you had the more authentic Huckabee as an option instead. In 2012, Romney dumped social conservatism as a key part of his plank and ran on his true strength, as the business savant who’d turn the economy around after four years of struggle. Perry had a strong business record too, of course, as governor during Texas’s long economic boom, but between his immigration stumbles, his poor campaigning, and his late-ish entry, he could never snatch that niche away from Mitt. By the end of his campaign, he had seized on — ta da — social conservatism as a key distinction between him and Romney. Watch the second clip below to refresh your memory. That sounds … a lot different than what he says in the first clip about pushing our disagreements on social policy to the side and making sure all Americans have a job.
In other words, Perry’s going to run as the “business candidate” in 2016. That’s why he’s doing splashy tours of other states to try to lure companies to Texas, replete with triumphant appearances in national media whenever he entices a big one to make the move. You can already see the different “brands” in the 2016 field shaping up — Paul’s the libertarian, Cruz is the tea partier, Walker’s the guy who beat labor, Rubio’s the guy who’ll compromise to get big things like immigration done, and Rick Perry’s the guy who’ll get you a job. That’s a mighty good brand to have after eight years of Obamanomics and he knows it, which is why he’s kicking himself here for having been thrown off message for even a day. He’s not going to go quite as far as Mitch Daniels and call for a “truce” on social issues — he needs to remain a social con in good standing to have a shot in the primaries — but I think he’s operating more or less along those lines at this point. His “alcoholism” comments were a minor breach of that truce. I’ll bet he doesn’t repeat the error.