MSNBC Anchor Laments GOP Primary Focus on Religion, Wonders if Rick Perry Is A 'Phony'

MSNBC guest host Veronica De La Cruz on Thursday lamented the supposed emphasis GOP primary voters place on religion, complaining, "...What happened to jobs? What happened to that discussion?" She also suggested that Texas Governor Rick Perry could be a "phony."

Talking to contributor Melissa Harris-Perry, De La Cruz wondered, "Why is religion featuring so prominently right now?" Harris-Perry, a liberal writer for the Nation, then attempted to link evangelical support for George W. Bush to anti-Islamic sentiment.

[See video below. MP3 audio here.]

After insisting that Bush's evangelical "language" ushered in a new preoccupation with religion, the Nation journalist compared, "And then after 9/11, religion also became important because there was this kind of anti-Islamic, anti-Muslim anxiety that could be pretty easily tapped in order to get votes."

She continued, "So those two things, both a kind of conservative evangelicalism, attaching with the GOP, and this kind of anti- Islamic bias have meant that for a decade now this has been really central to politics."

Harris-Perry didn't identify what politician "tapped" into anti-Muslim attitudes for votes and De La Cruz didn't push her.

In reality, President Bush had kind words for Islam, such as at a December 04, 2002 address to Muslims, "Islam brings hope and comfort to millions of people in my country, and to more than a billion people worldwide. Ramadan is also an occasion to remember that Islam gave birth to a rich civilization of learning that has benefitted mankind."

De La Cruz continued her skeptical tone towards religion, wondering if evangelical African Americans could possibly be attracted to a Rick Perry candidacy: "Do you think the community could look at him and say he's a fake, a phoney?"

The MSNBC Live host also offered this dismissive take on another conservative Republican in the presidential race: "You know, we have to get to Michele Bachmann, of course. She has stated before that God told her to run for office."

In fact, what Bachmann said, in an interview with Iowa public televison on May 27, 2011, was more nuanced:

MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, every decision that I make I pray about as does my husband and I can tell you, yes, I've had that calling and that tugging on my heart that this is the right thing to do and because it's such a momentous decision, not only for myself, my husband and our 28 children, it is a momentous decision what ideas will I bring to bear?


A transcript of the August 11 segment, which aired at 11:33am EDT, follows:

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ: Religion is suddenly front and center in the GOP presidential battle with two candidates in particular, Governor Rick Perry of Texas and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Both key figures among conservatives for their beliefs. So, what kind of an impact could this have on the outcome of the race? MSNBC contributor Melissa Harris-Perry is a professor of political science at Tulane and a columnist for the Nation and joins us now. Hello, Melissa.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning, Veronica.

DE LA CRUZ: You know, we know Perry on Saturday hosted his day of prayer. This week, we saw Bachmann attending a church with a pastor who slammed gays. Melissa, why is religion featuring so prominently right now? I mean, what happened to jobs? What happened to that discussion?

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. You know, it's interesting. Religion has been really for more than a decade now, really since about 2000, it's been central in our conversations about the American presidency and American presidential elections. And it was, really in many ways, George W. Bush and his particular brand of sort of evangelical language and discourse, his comfort with conservative evangelicals that ushered in kind of the- this particular use of religion. And then after 9/11, religion also became important because there was this kind of anti-Islamic, anti-Muslim anxiety that could be pretty easily tapped in order to get votes. So those two things, both a kind of conservative evangelicalism, attaching with the GOP, and this kind of anti- Islamic bias have meant that for a decade now this has been really central to politics.

DE LA CRUZ: I wanted to get your take on this. When Bush ran for the White House, he had lots of support from black evangelicals because of his emphasis on faith. So what do you think? Do you think that Perry is going to get the same support? Do you think the community could look at him and say he's a fake, a phoney?

HARRIS-PERRY: Well, look, African-American evangelicals gave some support to Bush, but it really was never a large amount. And when you look at the support of African-Americans across the board for President Barack Obama as a candidate in '08, it's pretty unlikely that any GOP candidate is going to get much more than two or three additional percentage points, I think the real question is whether or not you end up with ballot initiatives that end up allowing African-Americans who consider themselves conservative and religious to kind of split votes where, for example, they might cast a vote for President Obama but also for a socially conservative ballot initiative.

DE LA CRUZ: All right. You know, we have to get to Michele Bachmann, of course. She has stated before that God told her to run for office. She has made comments suggesting that she supports certain Bible teachings, things like women need to be submissive to their husband, if you will. So, perhaps it helps her with conservatives now, Melissa, but, I mean, what about the general election? What about the general population?

HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, I mean, one of the things I want to emphasize here  is that not all people identify as strong people of faith, and strong people, even of Christian faith, are conservative. You know? This I think is actually worthy of discussion. So if Michele Bachmann says God tells me to run and God says these particular social conservative things, I think the other part of it is that those who are people of faith and particularly of a Christian faith, who say, "look, what the Bible tells me is that we should help one another, that she should not leave the poor without opportunity, that we should provide freedom and equality for, you know, all of God's family," in other words there's a real conversation that could emerge here. And I think if that conversation emerges, that religion should not be so frightening to us, it should be a robust part of our political conversation. And, so, maybe Michele Bachmann will bring that conversation to the fore.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org