The Stump

Conversion Narrative, Iowa Caucus Edition

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Rick Perry is getting grief for his conversion on the proverbial road to Dubuque -- announcing this week that he now opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest, not because he is desperately appealing to evangelical voters in the Iowa caucuses, but because he watched a movie. What, has Perry been kicking back with "Juno" in the Hampton Inn? No, hardier stuff than that: "The Gift of Life," produced by David Bossie, the conservative activist behind the Citizens United campaign finance case. It features Mike Huckabee and profiles people who say they were the result of rapes. Perry watched it on a DVD on his campaign bus -- what, no Sportscenter? -- and says it had a revelatory impact on him:

Tuesday, at the last leg of a four-stop bus trip across southwestern Iowa, Perry was asked a question by a local pastor about his abortion views, noting that the candidate had recently signed a pledge to oppose abortion in every situation and asking whether Perry had changed his mind. 

Perry replied that he had. "You're seeing a transformation," he said. Recently watching an anti-abortion film had persuaded him to alter his view, he said. The transformation, such as it is, comes at a particularly opportune time. With a week to go until the Jan. 3 caucuses, Perry is trying to court the social conservatives here who have yet to coalesce around a single candidate as they did for Mike Huckabee four years ago. And Perry has watched as Rick Santorum, an unyielding opponent of abortion rights, has picked up endorsements in the last week from key evangelical leaders in the state. But the pastor who asked Perry the question, Joshua Verwers, said he believed Perry was sincere. "It was the perfect answer," said Verwers, who said he had been concerned that the Texas governor was attempting to pander to evangelical voters.

Scoff all you want, but is this really any less credible than Mitt Romney's declaration that he switched to an anti-abortion rights position as he was preparing for his run for president because of conversations he had about embryonic stem-cell research? The only one who seems to have been persuaded by that explanation is nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, who somehow manages to overlook that Romney had in fact switched on the abortion issue once before, when he took a pro-choice stance as a Senate candidate in 1994 after having vigorously upheld his church's anti-abortion position as a lay leader in Boston.

Really, dear readers, which of these two conversion narratives do you find less persuasive? It's a tough call. I'm just glad that Rick Perry keeps behaving in ways that confirm my initial thesis, from three months ago, that far from a fire-breathing ideologue he is a rank opportunist -- who, to his misfortune, has stumbled into a presidential primary field with two other candidates even more adept at opportunism than he.

 

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