Would Rumors About His Marriage Haunt a Rick Perry Run?

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Photo: rickperry.org

Rick Perry, if he enters the GOP primary race, will be well-positioned to chip away at Mitt Romney's front-runner status. But while Romney has, at least for political purposes, an impeccable marriage to wife Ann, Perry's marriage to wife Anita has long been dogged, at least inside Texas, by whispers.

Politico resurfaced the rumors for the national crowd this week, explaining that "his team is more than prepared for a re-airing of unsubstantiated rumors." (For instance, in Politico articles re-airing them. Or Daily Intel posts discussing those articles.) The most vicious gossip, which Perry publicly addressed in 2004, alleged that he was gay and had cheated on his wife with a member of his administration. The Austin Chronicle, the one paper that seems to have been willing to devote actual ink to the story, wrote that though they were "extraordinary in their baroque detail and remarkable persistence," there was no evidence whatsoever, and "numerous other reporters, from here to New York, have looked into the rumors, with, as far as we know, an identical lack of results."

But the gossip didn't go entirely dormant, at least not when it was politically expedient: Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Perry's opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial election, juiced up the SEO keywords of her campaign website with "rick perry gay." That same election, a Democratic PAC ran an ad in most of the major Texas newspapers that was clearly meant to remind voters that Perry's red-blooded American maleness wasn't an established fact: "When he's not in San Francisco … Perry's … flipping through the pages of his Food and Wine magazine … in his fancy … rental mansion," read the copy. (Perry does not support gay marriage; Texas Democrats, theoretically, have made LGBTQ rights an important part of their platform. The party was silent on the gay-baiting ads.)

The rumors that the Perrys, who have been married since 1982, have an old-fashioned hetero-troubled marriage persist, too, though, again, evidence is awfully scant: An early storyline on whether Perry would seek a third term as governor made it seem like Anita was putting her foot down and saying no. (When in doubt, blame the wife!) She wore an old dress to this year's inauguration. Their first date "was awful, although Anita Perry didn't exactly use that word. But she certainly didn't use whirlwind or enchanted, either," reported the Dallas Morning News. (She was a freshman in high school and he a junior, for the record.) They were off and on for fourteen years after that initial meeting. (More potential signs of trouble!) And so on: Not really enough tidbits to add up to much, even for those inclined to imagine trouble.

Anita, a nurse by training who married at 30, says all the right things in interviews ("I like private life, but I love this life"), and told Texas Monthly she was delighted to have reporters delve into the rumors about her husband, so certain was she about their untruth. In that same interview, appropriately enough for someone trying to combat rumors of a deep marital rift, the only issue she 'fessed up to disagreeing with her husband was cosmetic (she didn't like a tax on cosmetic surgery he'd backed, citing its utility for kids with cleft palates). In nearly every interview Mrs. Perry gives, she's asked some version of the loaded question What has this all done to your marriage? by reporters hoping to goad her into saying something other than her standard answer, which boils down to Sure, this is hard sometimes. Questions like this make it harder. But we're fine.

The Perrys were less unflappable this winter when John Kelso, humor columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, published a decidedly unfunny column essentially accusing Anita Perry of being sullen: "Somebody needs to goose Anita Perry to get a smile out of her," went the headline. Anita, who has referred to a struggle she had with her shyness when her husband first entered public life, was taken to task for not smiling in a photo from inauguration. In another photo, a candid with her grinning husband from Election Day, he writes that "[s]he has this look on her face that says, 'This man is bothering me.' Or, 'I'd rather be in Costa Rica.'" He also finds "a few pictures here showing the governor trying to kiss her, and her turning her face. I don't want to get into that, so let's be gentle here. She probably doesn't want him messing up her lipstick. Or maybe she doesn't want to mess up his hair. Or he's been eating too many jalapeños." And in the one smiling photo Kelso cites, from her wedding day, he annotates it with "She has that goofy blissful look that all brides have when they realize they're about to get control of your credit cards." Hilarious stuff. And it proves ... absolutely nothing, except maybe that Perry aides aren't kidding when they say they're ready for whatever opposition researchers and the national press throws at them on the marriage front.


Rick Perry aides prepped for rumor rehash
[Politco]
The Real Sins of Gov. Perry [Austin Chronicle]
Fussy, Hysterical, Wine-Sipping Pols [Slate]
Kay Bailey Hutchison’s SEO Says Rick Perry Is Gay [Gawker]
Somebody needs to goose Anita Perry to get a smile out of her [Statesman]