WASHINGTON -- Presidential campaigns deceive political reporters all the time and often get away with it.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential primary campaign, befitting its bumbling nature and ultimately uninspiring execution, isn't one of those campaigns. Jay Root's new ebook, “Oops! A Diary From the 2012 Campaign Trail,” exposes Perry's top advisers as having pushed what Root deems a "giant farce" on several reporters. This reporter was one of them.
The backstory is this: With the campaign stumbling in December 2011, Perry's advisers decided to roll the dice on a highly divisive ad that criticized the idea that gay soldiers can serve openly in the military while children "can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."
At the time, Perry's top pollster, Tony Fabrizio, was known in political circles as being gay but not formally "out." Several members of the Republican LGBT community were nevertheless outraged that he would be associated with an ad that expressed that type of message.
When reached for his reaction to those concerns at the time, Fabrizio said that he had actually raised objections to the ad. Asked for proof, he put HuffPost in touch with Nelson Warfield, his fellow top staffer.
"That spot was mine from writing the poll question to test it to drafting the script to overseeing production," Warfield explained in an email. "Tony actually was against it from the get-go -- as he expressed somewhat colorfully below."
Warfield included beneath his message an email that Fabrizio had sent him on Nov. 18, 2011, calling the poll question Warfield had used to test the anti-gay message "nuts, just nuts."
What he and Warfield left out is that his position changed. As Root reports, Fabrizio ended up dropping his objections to the ad language after testing showed it was effective:
The only Fabrizio e-mail exchange that got leaked to the media was the one in which he referred to the proposed question from Warfield as "nuts." It was sent at 11:33 a.m on November 18, 2011. There was more, though. Here's what came next:
Warfield (11:39 a.m.): "So nuts we could lose our 6%? Heaven forefend. Let's not test it. Better not to know. Let's just argue our econ plan is about 7 millimeters better than all the rest. Yep, that's make 'em forget about all those Mexicans in study hall at Texas A&M."
Fabrizio (11:41 a.m.): "Didn't say I wouldn't test it, just said it was nuts. LOL! Touchy today, huh?"
At the exact same moment, Perry's longtime Texas pollster, Mike Baselice, sent an e-mail urging the two to tone down the question. But Fabrizio sided with Warfield and argued against taking out the reference to gays in the military.
Baselice (11:41 a.m.): "How about this: Rick Perry will end the Obama Administration's war on religion because he knows his faith and this nation's Christian heritage can make us stronger (strong again)."
Warfield (11:46 a.m.): "I would test it the way it was written. If you take the gay stuff and the Christmas stuff out of it, it loses its punch"
Fabrizio (11:47 a.m.) "Mike – Nelson is right. (As much as I hate to admit it.)"
In short: the Perry campaign deflected a story about gay Republicans being upset with Fabrizio's involvement in their ad by offering up the diversion of internal staff conflict. Fabrizio never technically lied to The Huffington Post -- he was, at one point, uncomfortable with the spot. He just left out the full story.
"I'm not denying at the end of the day, once I forced that message to be tested and once I forced the discussion of that ad, that at the end of the day I capitulated," Fabrizio said Monday. "But my job as a campaign strategist is to do what appears to be best for the campaign. It turned out not to be."
"When the rest of the campaign strategy team wants to do something, what do you do?" he added. "Do you say 'No, you can't do it?'"
Asked if he ever thought about leaving the campaign over the ad, Fabrizio said he did not. "There are plenty of people I have worked for who disagreed with me," he said.
Warfield was less apologetic when reached by The Huffington Post. In an email reply, underscoring to what end the truth will be molded to fit campaign realities, he suggested that he sent the deliberately snipped, certainly misleading, email for the greater good of Rick Perry.
"While Rick Perry was still running, I did everything I could to help him win," he said. "I admire Governor Perry and respected him enough not to gossip about the campaign. If the people who did so much to harm Gov. Perry's Presidential prospects by the time outside help arrived would rather dish dirty, I can't stop them. But I'm sure not going to help them."
In the end, the ad, like Perry's campaign, proved to be a major flop.
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