The effort by Michele Bachmann to make hay out of Rick Perry’s executive order to mandate the vaccination of girls for the HPV virus may wind up hurting her more than him because of her bizarre decision to repeat an unsubstantiated claim the vaccine caused mental retardation. Nevertheless, the attempt to portray him as a big government health care tyrant put the Texas governor on the defensive. Even worse, her claim the only reason he did it was as a payoff to the Merck pharmaceutical company for campaign contributions stuck to him. That served as the excuse for the repetition of accusations from Texas liberals that he has been a pay-to-play governor.
Of course, if this were Perry’s biggest problem he’d be in good shape, because far more damage has been done by his terrible debate performances and his refusal to bow to anti-immigrant sentiment on the right. The feeling lately among pundits has been Perry’s candidacy won’t last long enough for him to recover the ground he has lost, but a story in today’s New York Times about Perry’s wife may undermine the narrative about Perry that Bachmann’s attack generated. In it we learn it was Anita Thigpen Perry, a nurse and a leading Texas advocate for the victims of sexual assault, not Merck or its lobbyists, who was probably the driving force behind Perry’s HPV decision.
It turns out Mrs. Perry was suggesting the need for childhood immunization against HPV years before her husband issued his controversial executive order. Given that she appears to be his prime adviser on these issues, it seems likely her influence had more to do with his decision than anything else. While this may not quiet those who have cast Perry’s immunization order as a matter of patronage rather than principle and the fight against cancer, it does give us a bit more perspective on the issue and the man. Since Perry has admitted it was his wife as much as anyone who urged him to run for president, one can easily imagine the attacks on an issue so close to her heart may have steeled his resolve to stay in the race.
Of course, that resolve may not matter much if he flops again in the next Republican presidential debate on Oct. 11 in New Hampshire. Perry’s campaign has been sending out signals in the last few days that they think they can turn the race around by redoubling their attacks on Romney. That sounds more like wishful thinking than anything else, but they have little choice but to try to weather his current tribulations in the belief he will recover and resume his role as the leading conservative in the race. Optimism about Perry’s chances may be in short supply and for good reason. But those who believe he will give up even before the votes start getting counted may have underestimated not only his determination but also the role his family has played in pushing his career decisions.