The cliché Those predicting that Texas Governor Rick Perry will run for president in 2012 can claim a prominent like-minded ally: God. Perry fueled speculation that he will run in Sunday's Des Moines Register when he said, "I'm getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I've been called to do." Lest there be confusion as to just who is "calling" him, Daily Kos points out an interview Perry gave on Fox News in which he responded to Texan critics saying, "a prophet is generally not loved in their hometown." If indeed Perry answers the call, observers say his candidacy will threaten Michele Bachmann, another social conservative. But then, Bachmann, too, says she prayed to God about her potential candidacy, which gave her a "sense of direction." (She is being only slightly more oblique about God's role in her political calculus than in 2006 when she declared: "God called me to run for Congress.") Herman Cain, who is also seeking the Republican nomination, has said he interpreted a text message from his granddaughter as divine instruction. "I know that God was speaking to me through my granddaughter that this was something I’ve got to do," he said.
Who's on board? This slate of presidential candidates is by no means the first to invoke God's will. Steven Waldman writes in Slate:
Several sympathetic books about Bush and his faith make a big deal of his deciding to run for president after hearing a Texas minister named Rev. Mark Craig preach about how Moses had been called to service by God. Bush's mother reportedly turned to her son after the sermon and said, "He was talking to you."
Stephen Mansfield, author of The Faith of George W. Bush, goes on to say: "Not long after, Bush called James Robison (a prominent minister) and told him, 'I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for President.' " Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention heard Bush say something similar: "Among the things he said to us was: I believe that God wants me to be president, but if that doesn't happen, it's OK.' "
President Ronald Reagan's son Michael wrote in his foreword to Hand of Providence: The Strong and Quiet Faith of Ronald Reagan:
When [my father] decided to run for president, he didn't do it to raise himself up, to be admired, or to have others think he was great. He did it out of duty. He believed God had called him to run for president. He believed God had things for him to do.
Where it comes from The origin of a "calling" from God to an occupation or profession is, unsurprisingly, Biblical. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians is filled with God's call. "Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk," he writes. It is difficult to pinpoint the first time a presidential candidate claimed God had called him, but certainly Americans have believed in God's guiding hand since John Winthrop declared us a "city on a hill" way back in 1630, and presidents have invoked his aid since George Washington mythically tacked "So help me God" onto the end of the oath of office.
Why it's catching on A candidate endorsed by God is undoubtedly appealing to religious voters, and many have noted that the early contest in Iowa may be decided largely by social conservatives. So it is unsurprising then that candidates would position themselves as in communion with God. (Of course there is also always the theory that the candidates do genuinely feel God has inspired them to run.)
But why else? It is not just conservative Iowans who want a faithful president. A 2007 Pew survey asked which of a range of liabilities would make respondents least likely to vote for a candidate. The winner: the candidate does not believe in God, beating out "homosexual," "Muslim, and "had extramarital affair." Or, perhaps, contemplation of the presidency's weight requires something like a candidate's belief in his own divine inspiration. Past candidates, though, have mused on God's role with a bit less conviction than Perry et al. Indeed, soon after hearing of his election to the presidency, Abraham Lincoln, that first Republican president, reportedly muttered, "God help me. God help me."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.