Four years ago and again this year, Mitt (the Mormon) Romney repeated the line: “We’re not electing a pastor-in-chief; we’re electing a commander-in-chief.” Addressing the congregation he had summoned to Reliant Stadium Saturday, Rick Perry begged to differ: “As I finish I want to ask each of you to bow your head in prayer, or go to that position of prayer, and pray with us.”
Hats off to Perry’s team for putting out word that just 8,000 folks had RSVPed for the event, and then were able to quadruple the number in actual turnout. So instead of headlining the governor’s inability even to half-fill an arena in Bible-soaked Texas, the punditocracy pronounced The Response a successful gamble. Not so clever of the media to overlook the capacity of megachurches to get the buses rolling. Heck, you figure John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church alone put a few thousand fannies in the seats.
The take-away for pundits ought to be that when it comes to mobilizing the Republican grass roots the real action remains, as it has for a generation, with white evangelicals. And perhaps they will so conclude, now that the Tea Party looks more and more like a spent force–its numbers and popularity sinking like stones. Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum have known all along that, when push comes to shove, a GOP presidential wannabe must turn to the Christian Right. Perry has now made his play to trump them all, and as Sarah Posner reports over at Religion Dispatches, managed to line up up a notable, if not always mutually agreeable, collection of evangelical pooh-bahs.
Whether that will cut the mustard with the people in the pews is, however, far from clear. The latter embraced Mike Huckabee last time around, despite the pooh-bahs’ lukewarmness. You figure, though, that Mitt Romney’s hoping Perry will succeed in splitting the evangelical vote long enough for him to sail through to victory in the early primary states. Too many pastors-in-chief will spoil the CR broth.