She's on Fox News several days a week. She's about to open up her own strategic communications shop. She's one of the last Bushies standing. And she was just nominated for a federal post by President Barack Obama. So what is it, exactly, that Dana Perino is trying to accomplish?
Perino's row house is set amid a gentrifying strip of homes and window-front stores a few blocks east of the U.S. Capitol in a neighborhood that's an eclectic mix of working-class D.C. (Perino's neighbor drives a truck for the city) and Washington's upper crust (her pal Brazile lives a few blocks away). As Perino unlocks the door one late-summer evening, her husband, Peter, and Henry, a graying Hungarian vizsla, meet us in the entryway. "I picked up your dry cleaning," McMahon, an Englishman, says in a sing-song-y British accent. "Do you have any suggestions for dinner?"
A reed of a guy—with a long face, gray hair, and sideburns—McMahon, who's 18 years older than Perino, seems hardwired to serve his wife. After she arrived at the White House press office in 2005, McMahon more or less became her manservant, dropping her off at work in the morning, getting her food, and making sure she was in bed by 9 p.m. and ready for her 4 a.m. alarm. Even today, though the couple is apart for weeks at a time, McMahon has made it his mission to ease his wife's burdens. "Whatever I can do to help her, I gladly will do it," he tells me, as he pops two beers, hands one to me, and orders take-out Thai for dinner. Henry, the 72-pound vizsla, nuzzles Perino's skirt, looking for attention.
"Peter, help me out here," she says. "I'm on a call." She puts her hand over the receiver and whispers to the dog, "Sorry, Henry."
Among her accomplishments—from working for the White House at age 30 to becoming the first Republican woman to serve as press secretary—few have been more satisfying for Perino than training Henry. In addition to the basic sit and stay, Perino and her husband, who is also a Republican, have worked a few partisan tricks into the dog's repertoire: Henry fetches flip-flops when asked what he thinks about John Kerry; he barks when asked whether Bill Clinton belongs in jail.
"Even your dog's a Republican?" I ask.
"Yeah," Perino says, "isn't it great?"
She starts tapping away on the BlackBerry when McMahon, who's twice divorced and does international sales and marketing for medical products, offers to give me a tour. The couple's home is quintessential Washington: hardwood floors, exposed-brick walls, white cabinets, and a collection of items from other continents. On the kitchen counter is a photo of President George W. Bush, signed "I miss you."
Upstairs, McMahon shows me a smallish bathroom and Perino's office, which for the moment is a mishmash of boxes and keepsake photos of Perino with the Pope, the Queen of England, and other dignitaries.
McMahon leads me to the couple's bedroom, which has a fireplace, an oversized bed, and an antique-style glass dresser. Perino joins us after finishing up some business. "We better get upstairs before the sun sets," she says. Atop the roof's Trex deck, we stand in the dimming summer light as the sun disappears behind the U.S. Capitol. The air is warm and sweet. It's both relaxing and invigorating. Maybe it's the moment, maybe it's the beer, maybe it's that I've been running around with Perino all day, but I can't contain myself.
"Who here thinks Bill Clinton belongs in jail?" I ask.
Henry answers: Woof, woof, woof.
It's completely quiet. Perino and her husband look a little shocked. So am I. She's staring at me. Then, Perino cracks a smile and we all laugh.