SKOUSEN’S INFLUENCE…. At the Values Voter Summit over the weekend, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) mentioned his reading habits. “Lately,” Perry said, “I’ve found myself going back to a book that’s titled ‘The 5000 Year Leap.’” As Dave Weigel noted, “There were head nods and noises of approval from many members of the audience.”

Perry added that the once-obscure book’s author, hyper-conservative theorist W. Cleon Skousen, “shares his views of the foundational elements of our nation, placing a special emphasis in faith in God-I think undeniably a source of America’s remarkable success. He asserts that natural law, God’s law, is the basis of our nation’s laws.”

Skousen’s name probably isn’t familiar to most Americans, but his work has recently captured the imaginations of some prominent right-wing voices. That’s not an encouraging development.

In a fascinating item last week, Alexander Zaitchick explained that Skousen is Glenn Beck’s favorite writer, and the man who changed the Fox News personality’s life.

A once-famous anti-communist “historian,” Skousen was too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era, but Glenn Beck has now rescued him from the remainder pile of history, and introduced him to a receptive new audience.

Anyone who has followed Beck will recognize the book’s title. Beck has been furiously promoting “The 5,000 Year Leap” for the past year, a push that peaked in March when he launched the 912 Project. That month, a new edition of “The 5,000 Year Leap,” complete with a laudatory new foreword by none other than Glenn Beck, came out of nowhere to hit No. 1 on Amazon. It remained in the top 15 all summer, holding the No. 1 spot in the government category for months. The book tops Beck’s 912 Project “required reading” list, and is routinely sold at 912 Project meetings where guest speakers often use it as their primary source material. […]

What has Beck been pushing on his legions? “Leap,” first published in 1981, is a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recast the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by French and English philosophers. “Leap” argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. It lists 28 fundamental beliefs — based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith — that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined. The book reads exactly like what it was until Glenn Beck dragged it out of Mormon obscurity: a textbook full of aggressively selective quotations intended for conservative religious schools like Utah’s George Wythe University, where it has been part of the core freshman curriculum for decades (and where Beck spoke at this year’s annual fundraiser).

Skousen, a fringe activist considered dangerous by the FBI, was eventually kept at arm’s length by his own Mormon church, but not before he became a leading defender of the John Birch Society. Even the National Review referred to him as an “all-around nutjob.”

And yet, Skousen’s book is a huge success with the Teabagging crowd, and is now being touted, not only by Beck, but also by Republican governors.

As Ed Kilgore noted recently, “Next time someone tells you the Tea Party movement is composed of average Americans who are simply worried at the terrible things Barack Obama’s trying to do to their country, keep in mind they are being influenced by the works of someone who thought America was being plunged into socialist tyranny by the Eisenhower administration.”

And as Zaitchick concluded, Skousen’s popularity with Beck and his audience “suggests that the modern base of the Republican Party is headed to a very strange place.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.