Speaking to a crowd of 50 people on the U.S.S. Yorktown today, Texas Gov. Rick Perry made an overture to South Carolina Republicans with a list of evangelical, military-boosting, and values-voter talking points.
Perry spoke against President Barack Obama's leadership in the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, a policy decision that allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military starting in September this year. "I think our president made a huge error when he changed the policy, particularly in the middle of a war in two different theaters of war, basically using our military as a political tool to advance his base's position and their desire to make those individuals public," he said. Asked what he would do about homosexuals currently serving in the military if he successfully reversed the policy change, he said, "I think you go back and you have that conversation with the civilian leaders and the military leaders on how you want to deal with them."
The governor indicated a willingness to use military intervention, although he did not mention any specific targets for future military action.
"As president, I will never apologize for a country that has done more than any other to promote peace in this world, to liberate the oppressed and advance the cause of human freedom around the world," Perry said. "And as commander in chief, I'll ensure our military men and women have the tools they need to wage war successfully."
Perry accused President Obama of making the armed services as "political pawns in some budgetary debate," pointing to a $492 billion defense budget cut (which is actually a curtailing of planned increases and not a decrease at all) that was scheduled for January 2013 after the Super Committee failed to meet its budget-slashing goals. He also said he would only send the military abroad "as a last resort" and with "very clear objectives," but he added, "America will not stand idly by when our interests are threatened and our allies are endangered."
This week, the Perry campaign spent $650,000 on a TV ad campaign in Iowa that attacked Obama for waging a "war on religion." Asked to elaborate on that point today, he said the Obama administration had been cutting funds for Catholic charities because of their stance against abortion.
Perry asked South Carolina evangelicals to "give me a second look."
"I'm who I am. I have an ad up that basically says across this country that I'm not afraid to talk about my Christian faith. I'm not afraid to talk about the values that this country was based upon, and I think we need to get back to those values. I don't understand why our children can't pray in school and why our children are not allowed to celebrate Christmas in school. I don't get that."
During his speech today, Perry — who has billed himself in campaign materials as "America's Jobs Governor" — made no mention of plans that would create jobs or shrink the federal budget deficit.
Although Perry chose Charleston as the site to announce his bid for the GOP nomination in August, he has focused most of his campaigning and advertising on Iowa and New Hampshire, which will have earlier primary elections. During his speech today, he made no promises specific to the Palmetto State, which will hold the nation's third Republican primary on Jan. 21, but he said he would be ramping up campaign efforts here before long. In a recent poll of registered South Carolina voters conducted by Winthrop University, Perry took a distant third place with 9 percent of the Republican vote, behind Mitt Romney (21.5 percent) and Newt Gingrich (38.4 percent).
Perry was the second 2012 GOP contender to do a stump speech at the retired Navy ship in Mt. Pleasant, following on the heels of Michele Bachmann, who has spoken there twice. Standing in front of an American flag the size of a living-room floorplan, he began his speech with praise for military veterans, referencing the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Wednesday. He was introduced by Maj. Gen. James Everett Livingston, a U.S. Marine and Medal of Honor recipient from South Carolina. S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell also stood behind Perry onstage. He announced his endorsement of Perry in October.