Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s well-coiffed and grinning mugshot has made him the new poster boy for political damage control — and might even boost his profile for a 2016 presidential run.
The flattering photo, which has been compared to a GQ headshot, became the talk of Twitter and ignited a firestorm of fawning media coverage Wednesday.
“Nice suit, crisp white shirt, appropriate blue tie. The look is confident, defiant but not too smug,” gushed the celebrity gossip website TMZ, adding that his mugshot looked better than music legend James Brown’s and was on par with actress Lindsay Lohan’s mugshot from the sixth time she was arrested.
Mr. Perry posed for the mugshot without his signature black-rimmed glasses, which police required him to remove. Stripped of the glasses, the governor fixed a steely stare into the police camera and struck a tight-lipped smile.
The episode easily could have been a PR disaster for Mr. Perry, who is eyeing another run for the Republican presidential nomination after an embarrassing failed campaign in 2012. He dropped out of that race after flubbing a debate, forgetting which federal departments he planned to eliminate and exclaiming, “Oops!”
Mr. Perry was booked Tuesday on two felony counts of abuse of power for using his veto authority to try to oust a Democratic district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg. She runs a public integrity unit but was arrested for drunken driving and caught on video berating police officers during her arrest.
Ms. Lehmberg served jail time and underwent counseling before returning to her post. When she refused Mr. Perry’s call to resign, he vetoed $7.5 million in state funding for the unit.
A Travis County prosecutor decided to charge Mr. Perry, saying his public vows to veto the bill if Ms. Lehmberg didn’t resign constituted an illegal threat. If convicted, Mr. Perry could theoretically be sentenced to more than 100 years in a Texas prison.
The governor pleaded not guilty and denounced the charges as politically motivated.
Still, Mr. Perry emerged from the courthouse well positioned in the PR battle over the charges.
His mugshot was immediately compared favorably with Ms. Lehmberg’s mugshot, in which she appeared bleary eyed with mussed hair.
“@GovernorPerry turns himself in, rocks his mugshot like a GQ boss (unlike his drunken nemesis),” tweeted eavesdropann@eavesdropann.
Not all the commentary was pro-Perry. A rash of Twitter posts photoshopped the mugshot with adornments such as big glasses, ladies hairdos or a pirate eye patch.
“No no Rick Perry, it’s ‘mugshot’ not ‘smugshot,’” tweeted Kumail Nanjiani@kumailn.
The governor also downplayed the police booking by afterwards going out for ice cream with a couple of his aides. He posted a picture of their visit to the ice cream stand on Twitter.
Terry Hemeyer, a communications professor at the University of Texas who specializes in public relations and crisis management, said that Mr. Perry made the best of a bad situation.
“The whole event is a negative event but it is less negative if he does this,” he said. “He controlled the fact that he went in there and how he handled himself You need to turn yourself in, cooperate as much as possible because the alternative is not good.”
Mr. Perry could have been following the playbook of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, another Texas Republican targeted by the quirk of Texas law that gives prosecutors in Travis County — a liberal enclave in the middle of one of the nation’s most conservative states — the power to prosecute any political corruption cases anywhere in the state.
Mr. DeLay famously sported a wide, toothy smile when he posed for a mugshot in 2005 on charges that involved money laundering. At the time, Mr. DeLay’s mugshot was compared favorably to that of actor Hugh Grant, who was still the scoundrel du jour after his 1995 arrest for picking up a prostitute.
Mr. DeLay’s wide grin and snazzy suite, complete with his congressional lapel pin, was credited with keeping the photo from becoming fodder for campaign attack ads.
The congressman was convicted by a Travis County jury in 2011 but an appeals court reversed the verdict on the merits, calling the evidence “legally insufficient.”
“There is no doubt [the case against Mr. Perry] is politically motivated,” Mr. DeLay told Fox News. “Once again, the district attorney of Travis County presented a case, not unlike mine, that was very weak — if it was a case at all.”