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.
Also on HuffPost:
At the CNBC debate on November 9, Perry <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/10/rick-perry-oops-video_n_1085336.html" target="_hplink">famously forgot</a> one of the government agencies he would eliminate if elected: <blockquote>"It's three government agencies when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education and the um, what's the third one there. Let's see," Perry said. He turned to Texas Rep. Ron Paul, looking for some help, but got nothing but a remark from Paul that he would eliminate five agencies. "Oh five," Perry said. "So Commerce, Education, and, uh, the uh, um, um." "EPA?" offered former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "EPA, there ya go," Perry said as the room exploded in laughter. CNBC moderator John Harwood honed in and pressed Perry: "Seriously? Is EPA the one you were talking about?" "No sir. No sir. We were talking about the, um, agencies of government," Perry said. "The EPA needs to be rebuilt." "But you can't name the third one?" Harwood persisted. "The third agency of government," Perry said. "I would do away with the education, the um, Commerce, and let's see. I can't think of the third one. I can't. Sorry. Oops."</blockquote>
Voting Age Flub
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/rick-perry-gets-voting-ag_n_1119126.html" target="_hplink">During a campaign stop</a> at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, Perry got both the voting age and the date of the 2012 presidential election wrong. "Those of you that will be 21 by November the 12th, I ask for your support and your vote," he said to the students. The legal voting age has been 18 since the 26th Amendment was adopted in 1971. The general election is scheduled for November 6, 2012.
New Hampshire... Caucus?
During a November <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/30/rick-perry-new-hampshire-caucus_n_1120304.html" target="_hplink">interview </a>with Fox News, Perry mistakenly referred to the New Hampshire "caucuses." When asked about the emergence of front runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, Perry responded, "Americans haven't decided yet at all who they want to lead the Republican nomination, and we're going to be talking about that and we're going to be talking about it in harsh and strong terms over the course of the next four to five weeks as we get ready for those New Hampshire caucuses." New Hampshire holds primaries, not caucuses.
Minimum Age To Run For President
While speaking to Catcher Jones, a seven-year-old from Greenville, South Carolina in December, Perry flubbed the minimum age to run for president. "I'm glad you're not 21," Perry told Jones, who was wearing a t-shirt that said "Future President: Accepting Campaign Donations Now." Perry realized his mistake and added, "Or actually 35."
War With Iran
After a woman in South Carolina asked Perry what he thought about current United States military operations, Perry mistakenly started talking about the wars in Afghanistan and Iran. When an audience member alerted Perry to his error, he joked that his comment "will be on the front page."
Following a debate in New Hampshire, Perry met with fraternity brothers at Dartmouth College. When someone asked him about the issue of states' rights, Perry said that one of the "reasons we fought the revolution in the 16th century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown." The Revolutionary War occurred in the 18th century.
<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=OMK7La2721Y" target="_hplink">In an interview</a> with CNN last year, Perry got stuck in a time warp. "Washington has abused the Constitution. You go back to the, a decade ago, with Woodrow Wilson..." Wilson was president from 1913 to 1921.
Bizarre Campaign Speech
In October, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/29/video-rick-perrys-unusual-speech-performance_n_1065571.html" target="_hplink">an unusual performance</a> at a speech in Manchester led many to question the candidate's sobriety. Perry later made a statement to dispel rumors that he was drinking or using painkillers during the speech.
Bush Was Good At "Defending Us From Freedom"
During an interview with the <em>Today Show</em> last November, Perry told host Meredith Viera that "Bush did an incredible job, in the presidency, defending us from freedom."
While speaking with the editorial board of the <em>Des Moines Register</em>, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/09/rick-perry-gaffe-sonia-sotomayor_n_1139541.html?1323463939" target="_hplink">Perry struggled</a> to remember Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's name: <blockquote>"Do you really think he [President Barack Obama] is waging a war on religion?" asked an editorial board member, referring to Perry's recent ad pledging to "end Obama's war on religion" and "fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage" as president. "I do because when you see his appointment of two -- from my perspective, inarguably -- activist judges, whether it was," he said, then trailing off for about six seconds trying to recall her name. "Montomayor," he said. Someone on the editorial board said Sotomayor's name. "Sotomayor and [Elena] Kagan, who are both activist judges," he continued.</blockquote>