by Andrew Malcolm
Here's how Jeri Kehn Thompson felt when she learned her husband, the former senator named Fred, had decided to run for president:
“I felt so sick. I was depressed. I didn’t want to throw my husband to the snakes.”
We learn this and more in a kind of coming-out interview in People magazine, coming out today. It's titled "No Trophy Wife" because, absent any information to the contrary, many in American society make assumptions about a 65-year-old man being married to a beautiful woman 24 years younger.
The story opens with the former Jeri Kehn in sweatpants and ragged nails from stripping wallpaper.
They met, according to the story, on July 4, 1996, in line at a Kroger supermarket in Nashville. Thompson was still a U.S. senator, and Kehn, who formerly worked at the Republican National Committee, spied the contents of Thompson's shopping cart--a can of Beanie Weenies and half a tuna sandwich. Kehn recalls feeling sorry for the bachelor. They struck up a conversation. He walked her to her car and on the spur of the moment she invited him to a party that night.
They were married in June 2002. As for the trophy wife murmurs, she can sometimes shrug it off, sometimes get annoyed. "It's hard not to be defensive," she says. "To think back on how hard you've worked and all anybody thinks about is you're a trophy wife."
Now, they have two children -- one-year-old Sammy and four-year-old Hayden. And the People photos show Thompson in the couple's $3-million suburban Washington home, changing Sammy's diaper in the living room, which the magazine describes as "Horchow Collections meets Fisher-Price."
Anonymous rumblings from her husband’s nascent campaign have suggested that Jeri has played a much more hands-on role than she portrays. She says she has no intention of helping govern should he win. “It absolutely blows my mind that people think I would want a Cabinet post,” she says. “I can’t forfeit my responsibility for some of the ones some women might take on as first lady. I would still have my children as a first priority.”
Earlier this week the entire Thompson family sat for an interview with Fox's Sean Hannity. The children squirmed happily on their parents’ laps. Thompson looked more like Hayden’s grampa, but the newest GOP presidential candidate looked as comfortable as could be as his daughter played with a plastic bowl and waved her hands. He didn’t miss a beat when answering Hannity’s mostly softball questions.
Hannity did ask two pointed questions: He pushed Thompson on evangelical leader James Dobson’s doubts about his Christianity and dismissal of his candidacy. “I have my own relationship to the good Lord,” said Thompson, who says he's never met Dobson and doesn’t plan “to dance to anybody’s tune.”
Hannity also raised a Newsweek story quoting unnamed Thompson campaign advisors worrying that living in the White House is Jeri’s dream, not Fred’s.
“To people who say this has not been my lifetime ambition," Thompson replied in his deep voice, "I plead guilty. It hasn’t been. That’s absolutely true.” His wife smiled demurely. “Circumstances change," he added. "Times change. The country faces different challenges.”
As for whether the presidency is his wife’s dream, Thompson said, “I don’t think that’s something she relishes…this kind of a process and be open to anything anybody wants to anonymously say about you.”
When Hannity mentioned that if her husband was elected, Jeri would be the youngest first lady “since Jackie Kennedy,” she smiled and joked: “I have one question. Do I get the clothes?”
Andrew Malcolm writes for Top of the Ticket, the L.A. Times' political blog.
"No Trophy Wife.'' No cover story either. The Jeri Thompson story appears in the new edition of People, pages and cover reprinted here with permission.