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What Rick Perry's Rise and Fall Says About the GOP

01/17/2012 12:00 pm ET | Updated Mar 18, 2012

The most entertaining sideshow in the GOP circus is likely about to close. But save your laughs. Before Rick Perry exits, let's remember why he was here in the first place.

That Rick Perry was once a serious contender for the presidency exposes the cynical alliance of the 1% and the sexual fundamentalists that keeps the Republican Party in business.

Republican powerbrokers were convinced that the Texas governor was the solution to their Romney problem. Conventional wisdom had it that Perry was an ideal candidate because he was rock-solid with Tea Party small-government types. That he was charismatic, handsome and had never lost an election were also big selling points. Perry was also conservative on the social issues. A bonus, but not essential -- we kept being told -- given how the election was absolutely going to hinge on the economy.

There are hundreds of examples of this hive-mind, such as this one from columnist Doyle McManus:

There's a big hole in the Republican field, and it's made to order for a Southern governor who's conservative on social issues but not censorious, and who'd rather talk about cutting government spending and holding down taxes.

That was before Perry went all Brokeback Mountain, suggesting in the space of 31 seconds that gays were destroying America, Obama was anti-Christian and not very subtly reminding evangelicals that the frontrunner is a Mormon.

That was before Perry joined with anti-gay Bible-thumpers to sponsor a mass rally praying for America to return to Jesus. A week before he went to the Tea Party to announce he was running for president, Perry shared a stage with a woman who believes Satan controls the Democratic Party. Literally. She says she's seen for herself the little Beelzebubs dancing around the skirt of a local Democratic official. Perry hugged and thanked her for her support.

The GOP elite recruited Perry to talk about jobs but he wandered off the reservation. Still, it wasn't as if Perry's promoters didn't know about his affiliations and enthusiasms. There was extensive reporting about private meetings convened by the leaders of the anti-gay marriage, antiabortion, religious right to draft Perry into the presidential race. While serious Republicans were trumpeting the governor's ability to rub Obama's face in the dust on job creation and fiscal discipline, the governor pushed through "emergency legislation" to require women seeking abortions to listen to a sermon while being probed by an ultrasound wand. The Democratic-devil-spotter, Alice Patterson, was a veteran Republican activist, once a key organizer of the Texas Christian Coalition when it mobilized to elect Perry's predecessor: George W. Bush.

For Perry's Republican promoters, Perry's deep connections to far-right religious zealots was entered as an asset, not a liability, in the GOP's accounts.

I confess I will never look at maple syrup in quite the same way. But Perry's presidential run reveals a much more important truth about today's GOP. In November, when another governor who would rather talk about jobs asks for your vote, remember Perry's religious zealotry and anti-gay bigotry and how it is condoned from the bottom to the top of the Republican Party.