Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose campaign has stumbled on the candidate's weak debate performance, on late Friday finally repudiated the remarks of a Dallas clergyman who hours before had introduced him at a Values Voters summit in Washington, where the minister disparaged the Mormon faith of Perry's presidential rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The Rev. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Dallas megachuch, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, characterized Mormonism as a cult.
Perry, who flew to Tiffin, Iowa, for a barbeque after his Washington speech, was asked three times whether he agreed with Jeffress' evaluation of Mormonism.
No, Perry said to the first question, CBSNews.com reported Friday night. To the second, Perry said: No, I've already answered that back there. I told him no. Asked by a third reporter whether he associated himself with the pastor's remarks, Perry said: I already answered that question, before being whisked out the door.
Perry Campaign: Ill-Conceived Statements, Poor Performances, and Gaffes
Jeffress' comments and Perry's late rejection of the minister's views threatened to create another storm cloud over a campaign that has been spinning downward, almost since Perry's announcement to seek the U.S. presidency. Within days of his decision to run, Perry made reprehensible and offensive comments regarding the U.S. Federal Reserve, the nation's central bank.
Perry then registered three subpar debate performances -- performances that have led some in Republican circles to conclude he does not have the experience and issue-intensive background necessary to seek the nation's highest office.
On Friday, when initially asked by ABC News whether Perry agreed that Mormonism is a cult, Perry spokesman Mark Miner said: The governor doesn't judge what is in the heart and soul of others. He leaves that to God, ABC News reported.
Miner would also not immediately say whether the governor believed it was wrong to call Mormonism a cult. It's not his decision to judge that, Miner said. He added that conference organizers decided who should introduce Perry at the summit, not the campaign.
But, minutes later, Miner called ABC News with a new statement about Mormonism, He does not believe it is a cult.
Political/Public Policy Analysis
The handling of the Mormonism issue constitutes another serious error by the Perry campaign, and to say its mistakes are taking a toll is like saying the Philadelphia Phillies had a rough playoff series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Perry's campaign is sinking, and unless he begins to demonstrate that he is capable of leading a nation of Mormons, Libertarians, vegetarians, agnostics, and others outside his political base, his candidacy for the presidency will be toast. History.
If Perry cannot stop the pattern of offensive, ignorant, and inappropriate statements, he will not have to worry about trying to improve his standing in upcoming Republican presidential debates -- his campaign will have been short-circuited, and his candidacy will have been ended by then.