Rick Perry Anti-Gay Ad Puts Spotlight On GOP Consulting Class
WASHINGTON -- Texas Governor Rick Perry's controversial new ad attacking Obama for repealing the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy has infuriated the LGBT community and divided members of the candidate's top staff. And for good reason: the spot leans heavily on outdated cultural norms, and even among some in the GOP tent there is a real reluctance to demonize gay rights.
The origins of the ad are as interesting as its politics. Nelson Warfield, a top Perry aide, told The Huffington Post that the spot was his idea, "from writing the poll question to test[ing] it to drafting the script to overseeing production." But Perry's top pollster, Tony Fabrizio, called the script "nuts."
After The Huffington Post reported on those divisions, a reader emailed to note that both Fabrizio and Warfield had worked (at one time or another) under Arthur Finkelstein, a long-time New York GOP operative famous for his sharp-elbow politics. Fabrizio did a stint at Finkelstein's firm, in addition to helping him out with Jesse Helms' 1984 Senate campaign. Since then, they've squared off in several campaigns, including the 2010 Florida Gubernatorial GOP primary.
Warfield, meanwhile, worked alongside Finkelstein during Ron Lauder's 1989 mayoral run in New York, which ended in defeat to Rudy Giuliani. Since then he has been involved in a host of campaigns, often, as Slate's Dave Weigel notes, with his "finger on the pulse of Republicans worried about gays."
Finkelstein told The Huffington Post that he and Warfield haven't seen each other or spoken since that '89 campaign.
"He never to my knowledge ever was involved in a single paid communication in which I was involved," he said in an email.
As recently as 2004, however, Warfield was calling Finkelstein a "hero of mine and a master of negative campaigning."
Finkelstein did earn a reputation for guiding hard-edged political attacks that demonized Democrats as unconscionably liberal. But he also, quite famously, is gay.
Outed in a 1996 Boston Magazine article, Finkelstein was married in a civil ceremony in Massachusetts in 2005. The event received a New York Times write-up.
That an operative who called Finkelstein a "hero" engineered the 2012 cycle's most divisive anti-gay television ad isn't necessarily shocking. Politics is about getting candidates elected, not about the personal histories of campaign consultants. Clearly, Warfield thought attacking DADT's repeal would help Perry appeal to Iowa voters.
But it is worth noting that the Republican Party is filled, at all ranks, with people who are either sympathetic to gay rights or openly gay themselves. And it stands to reason that these individuals will, over time, feel more and more compelled to speak out against the type of ads Perry is running. Fabrizio did so in private. When asked to weigh in on the matter, Finkelstein passed.