Vanity Fair special correspondent Bryan Burrough, a native of Temple, headed back home to report on Rick Perry’s flagging campaign for a piece in the magazine’s January issue, titled “Rick Perry Has Three Strikes Against Him.” As for those three strikes? Well, there’s “{p}ay-to-play cronyism. Roughshod, right-wing politics. And . . . Oops, read on,” the subhed quips.

Burrough detailed how the “impossibly handsome” governor of Texas went from being the chosen Republican candidate to enjoying poll numbers in the single digits. Burrough devoted considerable ink to retelling the now infamous “oops” moment at the Rochester debate.

He goes on to ponder why Rick Perry’s campaign honeymoon was so brief, when he was thought by many to be the perfect candidate for this election cycle. Conservative columnist John Podho­retz mused that Perry “had the perfect résumé, the perfect story line, the perfect reputation, for Republican insurgents. All he had to do was make a respectable showing and he would have been anointed. All he had to do was walk and talk and chew gum and he would have won it.” 

At yet, Perry’s campaign stumbled repeatedly. Burrough spoke to Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka who theorizes that Perry’s back still pains him from his July surgery. Burka said:

Ever since, and you saw this at the very first debate, he just seemed to be very uncomfortable, you know, twisting his torso. I think he’s got back pain and may be taking medication for it. He is not on his game. He stopped wearing [his trademark black cowboy] boots and started wearing orthopedic shoes and a back brace. Of course, the campaign denies there is any problem. But he doesn’t seem to have any energy. He just does not look like the same man to me. It’s shocking.

The Atlantic Wires Elspeth Reeve takes Burka’s theory and runs with it, putting together an ambitious post that hones in on Perry’s choice of footwear at different debates and public appearances and tries to glean from it how he must have been feeling. “For his first presidential debate September 7, he started out the day in his boots. He arrived looking snazzy in California hours before the debate. But by the time he got his picture taken with Nancy Reagan — Nancy Reagan! — he was back in sneakers,” she notes. 

Later in the piece, Burrough rates Perry’s Texas machismo a ten out of ten, explores his days as an undergrad at Texas A&M, and looks into the crony capitalism that he says has defined Perry’s time as governor.

Haven’t been hanging on Rick’s every gaffe? The piece is accompanied online by a helpful audio soundboard collecting eight of them, including this older, lesser-known gem from November 2010: “George W. Bush did an incredible job in the presidency, defending us from freedom.”