After insisting for a year that he had no interest in running for president, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said a few weeks ago that he’s thinking about it.
He should now brace for a whole new level of scrutiny. Many politicians have found, when they expressed interest in being the leader of the free world, that things they thought were behind them or that nobody knew about jumped up to slap them in the face.
In October 1991, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who had been re-elected to that post in 1990, said he would run for president in 1992. In November, wife Hillary visited Austin. I had a one-on-one interview with her in the Linoleum Club, as we called the coffee shop in the Texas capitol basement.
At the end, I asked the question I thought might shut down the interview. “Rumors continue about your husband womanizing,” I said, or words to that effect. “Is that a problem?”
“Oh, no,” Hillary responded. “We put all that behind us in the 1990 governor’s race.”
A few weeks before the New Hampshire primary, a supermarket tabloid published a story about Gennifer Flowers’ claim of a longtime affair with Clinton. Three days later, Bill, with Hillary at his side, went on CBS’ 60 Minutes to deny the charge.
The day after that, Flowers held a press conference to play tapes of telephone conversations she had secretly recorded. Clinton’s staff acknowledged it was his voice but argued that the tapes had been selectively edited. Clinton survived and won the nomination and presidency.
It was not until five years later, in a civil suit about another alleged sexual impropriety, that Clinton acknowledged he’d had sex with Flowers — one time.
One famous political implosions was that of Gary Hart, a 12-year U.S. senator from Colorado. In 1987, when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, reporters asked if he was fooling around.
“Follow me around,” he challenged. “I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’ll be very bored.”
Problem was, two Miami Herald reporters saw a young woman leaving his townhouse at night. One thing led to another, and the disclosures melted down Hart’s candidacy.
In the closing days of George W. Bush’s presidential run in 2000, news broke about a previously unreported DUI arrest in Maine decades earlier. He survived, but barely.
When former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas was seeking the 1996 GOP nomination, a reporter discovered Gramm had invested in a soft-core porn movie. The end of his campaign arrived fairly shortly thereafter.
John Ensign, former U.S. senator from Nevada, was mentioned for a spot on the Republican presidential ticket for 2008. Scrutiny turned up an affair he’d had with a top aide. An investigation into his family for allegedly paying hush money ensued. He may face criminal charges.
Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina was Democrat John Kerry’s running mate in 2004. Edwards, who made a run for the White House in 2008, was later found to have fathered a child with a campaign aide while his wife was suffering from cancer.
Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, was mentioned as a possible Republican presidential running mate. Turned out he wasn’t on the Appalachian Trail as he’d told his staff, but in Argentina seeing his mistress. Over and out.
Perry’s been appealing to Christian conservatives — a lot. He’s even hosting a day of prayer and fasting in Houston on Aug. 6, financed by the American Family Association, a vehemently anti-homosexual group.
National media will be looking for overlaps betwen Perry’s political donations and the grants he oversees, his appointments, record, and character. Partnering with the anti-gay group will tee him up for re-inspection of a widespread but never-proven rumor about a gay affair.
That 2004 rumor spread around the world, although no mainstream media had been able to corroborate it. But it became so pervasive that Perry asked Austin American-Statesman reporter Ken Herman to interview him so he could deny it.
Perry said he’d faced several opponents “who have probably gone through my background about as well as you can.” The former Air Force pilot compared his political career to “a bombing mission. … The missiles come up on a regular basis.”
Running for president, the warheads may be bigger.
Veteran Texas political writer Dave McNeely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.