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New Book Reveals Depths of Perry Campaign’s Truthiness

The story of why Perry failed so disastrously evolves once again. Plus other mistruths.
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The biggest takeaway from Texas Tribune reporter Jay Root’s new e-book on Rick Perry’s presidential campaign is that the governor and his people have a problem telling the truth and will say pretty much anything to keep his career alive. Granted, it’s a little odd to be dissecting a failed presidential bid more than a year later. But Perry is still the governor and may have ambitions to run again, as incredible (bordering on ludicrous) as that seems to some. So, it’s worth looking at what Root has uncovered.

Everyone remembers Perry’s epic stumbles: His mockable and vile anti-gay TV ad, his cartoonish tough-guy schtick, his soporific performances at the debates culminating with the “oops” that was heard around the world. Some longtime Perry-watchers speculated that the guv was doped up on painkillers following a controversial stem-cell procedure he had undergone in July 2011 to treat a bad back. Or that his back was simply hurting him enough that it somehow turned off his brain. But his staff insisted throughout the fall that his health wasn’t an issue and that he had “fully recovered.”

In early December, for example, Perry told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he had had an “incredibly successful surgery” and was “back running again, three to four miles, four to five times a week. And I was off for 10 weeks. I probably took pain medication for the first 10 days, two weeks and after that, the surgery has been awesome.”

But then six days later, Perry told the Des Moines Register that the back surgery had affected him.

“I think part of the reason you have seen a somewhat different candidate on the debates is my health, and (I’m) both physically and mentally just back in the game,” he said. “You have fusion on your back, and it takes you a while to get back on your game.”

But now the story has changed again. Root is reporting that Perry’s problem was actually sleep apnea:

What is not widely known is that Perry, 62, had major health issues too—a serious but previously undiagnosed sleep disorder that was discovered just as the front-runner label was slipping from his hands, and painful sensations in his leg and foot that also kept him up at night.

By the time he started sleeping again and feeling better, all of the efforts to right the ship — like firing his top political adviser and bringing in new hands — had unleashed so much internal dysfunction that the campaign split into rival factions, made up of people who could not stand to be in the same room together.

This is a complicated narrative: First, Perry’s health was fine, then later his back pain was responsible for his poor performance, and now it was “previously undiagnosed” sleep apnea all along. Even though Root closely covered the campaign, he never got word of the sleep apnea problem until much later. Why are we only hearing about this now?

Root is an excellent reporter and there’s no reason to doubt the veracity of his reporting. But, at the same time, you’ve gotta wonder: Is this yet another attempt to keep the dream alive for Perry, to resurrect the governor from the dustbin of history in case he decides to run for governor or president again?

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Bonus: Root also reveals that the Perry campaign deliberately deceived the media in one instance.

After the anti-gay TV ad bombed, members of the Perry campaign planted a story in the press that the campaign’s gay pollster, Tony Fabrizio, had balked at the ad. But in fact Fabrizio had quickly changed his mind, coming to favor the ad after seeing polling data that GOP voters loved it. Internal campaign emails were selected to give the appearance of Fabrizio’s dissension.

But the folks responsible for the deception hardly seem contrite. One gentleman told Huffington Post today that he did it “did everything he could to help [Perry] win.”

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.