In August, it looked awfully likely that Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), fresh off his massive prayer rally, called “The Response,” would use religion as the basis for his presidential campaign and capture the overwhelming support of the religious right. If that was the strategy, it never came together.

It looks like the former frontrunner hopes it’s not too late. Here’s the message in his new ad, running in Iowa:

“When you run for president, you get a bunch of questions about your faith. People want to know what drives you, how you make decisions. Now, some liberals say that faith is a sign of weakness. Well, they’re wrong. I think we all need God’s help. America’s greatest leaders have been people of strong faith, strong values. That makes for a strong America. I’m Rick Perry. I’m not ashamed to talk about my faith.”

It’s an interesting message for all kinds of reasons. At face value, religious-right voters are a powerful force in the Iowa Republican caucuses, so it’s not surprising candidates would shape their messages accordingly. Also, by emphasizing he’s “not ashamed,” he’s drawing a subtle contrast with Mitt Romney, who tends not to make similar boasts about his Mormonism.

But ultimately, the ridiculous shots at the left appear to be an effort to set a trap.

Greg Sargent mocked Perry yesterday for the response liberals are supposed to make: “Outrage! Fury! Liberals, to the battlefield! Shine the spotlight on this man — he’s the scourge of liberals everywhere! Remind all the conservatives who have already written him off for dead just how much liberals loathe the prospect of a Perry presidency!”

Exactly. Perry says that “some liberals say that faith is a sign of weakness” — quick, governor, name one — in the hopes that liberals will push back. Suddenly, Perry becomes the champion of religious values, going up against outraged liberals, giving the political world an excuse to give the Texan some coverage again.

It’s not a bad idea, I suppose, though I don’t imagine it’ll work. Much of the left seems far more interested in candidates who are far more competitive than Rick Perry.

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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.