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?
Back in her office, I ask about Glenn Beck.
"For three million people, he's the right person," she tells me. "And it's not for me to describe them. I'm open-minded."
"That's it?" I ask. "No problems with Beck? Anyone else?"
"Nope," she says, "and I'm not going to say any more about it."
"You said something about Tancredo."
"Well, you pushed me."
"So I have to push harder on this?"
"No, because I'm not answering," she says. "You're making me very nervous. I don't know what to think about you."
I tell her I have more questions.
"No, you don't," she says. "You're studying me."
She packs her bag and heads out the door. Outside, she gives me a hug and we say good-bye at the curb. "I'm the toughest interview you'll ever have," she tells me. Then she gets into a cab and disappears.
A couple of months later, an e-mail from Perino arrived in my inbox.
"I'm going to part ways, very amicably, with Burson at the end of the year and will start my own company and have more time for the speaking, writing, strategic communications work I want/need to do."
I gave her a call.
"You saw how busy I was," she told me. "I wasn't seeing Peter at all. I was writing speeches on the weekend. Peter and I were looking at each other one day, and we said, 'Our [post-White House] life was not supposed to be like this.' "
Her new shop, she said, would be part of the ever-growing Dana Inc. She planned to start small so she could continue the long list of gigs she'd already committed to: the speeches, the TV appearances, the articles. The firm also would be nonpartisan.
"So if George Soros"—the liberal billionaire—"said he needed your help, you'd give it to him?" I asked.
"Umm-hmm," she responded, then added that Soros would never seek her advice. Was she joking? I couldn't tell.
In that moment, I'd never been surer about Beltway politics. We all know about the backroom deals, about the quid pro quos, about lobbyists and consultants searching for ways to maintain power and eke out another buck. Perino, at one point, had actually warned me about this, without actually saying what was subtly implicit: "People don't get it," she told me. "Washington is the least partisan place in the country." Put another way, there is no red or blue in our nation's capital, only green.
So you can understand if something was bothering me as I was putting the last period on this story. I'd gone to Washington, D.C., expecting to meet a true believer, someone who was all-in for something. What I found was that no matter where you come from, D.C. consumes you.
But Perino, the master spin-doctor, had me second-guessing myself. Maybe I'd been too critical of her. Maybe she was just following Beltway protocol. Maybe she was fighting the good fight for something she believed in, but I was too blind to see it.
She sent me another e-mail in mid-November. "Watch today for an announcement about me and a board I'm going to be nominated to."
The press release came that evening. Perino had been nominated for a position on the federal Broadcasting Board of Governors. It's a small post that helps oversee international, nonmilitary, government-sponsored media—no heavy lifting, just another project on Perino's to-do list.
Yet there was something else about this job, something that made me laugh out loud when I put it all together. The board position required a presidential nomination, which meant that the woman who had always had George W. Bush's back was now backed by his successor and polar opposite, President Barack Obama. As the end of 2009 drew near, it appeared that Year One of Dana Inc. couldn't have gotten off to a better start. m
Robert Sanchez is 5280's staff writer. E-mail him at [email protected].