Romney Adviser: Perry Campaign Encouraging Anti-Mormon Message
WASHINGTON -- A top evangelical Christian adviser to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said on Monday he believes Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign may be intentionally injecting the issue of Romney's Mormon faith into the Republican presidential primary.
"A week ago I would have said there's no way, I can't conceive of a major candidate's campaign intentionally using such tactics," said Mark DeMoss, an Atlanta-based public relations executive who works primarily with evangelical leaders and is an unpaid adviser to Romney. "It was inconceivable to me that that could be the case, just because I think it's not smart politically."
But Demoss told The Huffington Post that the actions of Texan Baptist Pastor Robert Jefress -- who first thrust the Mormonism issue into the campaign 10 days ago -- have given him "doubt" about whether the Perry campaign is as removed from attacks on Romney's faith as it has tried to appear.
"I would have bet money when Robert Jeffress surfaced there in Washington and then started going on TV programs that somebody would have gotten him to stop doing interviews. And he did them for a couple days," DeMoss said. "That's what made me question it whether they wanted him doing it or not. If they didn't want him doing it, I think they could have stopped him from doing it. I think they would have asked him and said, 'This isn't helping us.'"
In addition, new information came to light Sunday that suggests the Perry campaign has at least been in touch with operatives who are actively promoting the anti-Mormon narrative among voters. David Lane, a Perry backer and political organizer who moves in evangelical circles, wrote an associate in an email that was published by The Daily Beast that "getting out Dr. Jeffress [sic] message, juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false god of Mormonism, is very important in the larger scheme of things."
Lane also wrote that he had spoken with "a key Perry aide" about the need for "a clarion call to Evangelical pastors and pews."
Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the charge that their campaign has encouraged anti-Mormon sentiment "is not true and the governor has been very clear on this issue."
Jeffress, who has not responded to requests for comment by The Huffington Post, has said evangelicals should vote for Perry in the Republican primary because he is a Christian and Romney is not. Perry's campaign has said the candidate does not believe Mormonism is a "cult," as Jeffress labeled it, but Perry has refused to "repudiate" the pastor as Romney has called for him to do.
"I have a lot of people that endorse me but I don't endorse what they say -- or what they believe, for that matter -- and that's the case on this one. I can't control those individuals who go out and say something who may be for me in a race," Perry said last Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "Look, I'm not going to say that he can't say what he wants to say. The issue is, are we going to tell people what they can say, and I'm not going to be one of those. This is a country where we truly have freedom of expression."
Perry's wife, Anita, has used vivid spiritual language to describe the way that she and her husband view their involvement in the Republican primary. Her complaint that Perry has been "brutalized" because of his faith -- which DeMoss called "ironic" given the fact that Romney's religion is the one being disparaged -- has received most of the attention.
But Anita Perry also said last week that "we are fighting for the soul of our country."
"I would like for you to consider Rick Perry as the president of the United States to save the soul of our country," she said.
Lane used similar language in his emails, writing to talk show host Dick Bott that Perry should "sound the trumpet to Evangelicals, a spiritual call to war for the Soul of America."
DeMoss, the Romney adviser, said Anita Perry's language reflected a "wrongheaded analysis."
"The president cannot 'save the soul of America' -- whatever that even means. No president is capable of saving the soul of America," DeMoss said. "I would argue that only God could save the soul of America. That's not showing any disrespect to Gov. Perry. Billy Graham can't save the soul of America. It's not the president's role or job and no president could do it if it was their job."
As for whether he thinks Mormonism is a form of Christianity, DeMoss was noncommittal but indicated he does see differences.
"I don't care in the context of a presidential election," DeMoss said. "It's a theological distinction and I'm not making a theological decision in the general or primary election. So I don't engage in discussions or debates about Mormon theology or Christian theology in this context, other than to say that what Gov. Romney would say himself, which is that we have different theology in many points, but beyond that it's an unnecessary and, frankly, an unfair distraction. So I don't get into that."
This report has been updated to include comment from Perry spokesman Mark Miner.