Rick Perry was introduced at the Values Voters Summit -- a conference of social conservatives in Washington, D.C. this weekend -- by Dr. Robert Jeffress, a pastor at the Dallas megachurch First Baptist, who asked the crowd, "Do we want someone who is a conservative out of convenience, or one who is a conservative out of conviction? Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born-again follower of Jesus Christ? I believe that in Rick Perry we have a candidate who is a proven leader, a true conservative and a committed follower of Christ," according to The Hill.
The statement could be read as a veiled shot at Mormons. But just to make his point clear, after he was finished, Jeffress took questions from reporters. “As evangelical Christians, we understand that Mormonism isn’t Christianity and thus the difference between someone who is good and moral like Mitt Romney and a true follower of Christ [like Perry],” Jeffress said, again according to The Hill. “I think the decision for conservative evangelical Christians right now is going to be, do we prefer somebody who is truly a believer in Jesus Christ or somebody who is a good moral person but is a member of a cult? And it’s not politically correct to say but it is true: Mormonism is a cult.”
Political reporters and commentators are agog. Time's Mark Halperin says, "Candidates can't and shouldn't be held responsible for every past statement their supporters (or introducers) have made. But Jeffress rhetoric with Perry waiting in the wings are words of a different color." Politico's Ben Smith tweets, "And here goes another day in which Perry's message is going to be ... reaction to a mini-scandal."
Jeffress says he's "not insinuating that the governor shares those at all," Talking Points Memo reports, but that Perry welcomed his endorsement. As for Perry's speech, which is getting lost in the whole Jeffress brouhaha, the candidate told the crowd Friday, "America is going to be guided by some set of values. The question is, whose values?"