DALLAS – For those of us who follow what the late Ann Richards once called the “contact sport’’ of politics, there is perhaps no g
reater provocateur than the candidate caught cheating.
Although marital infidelity is nothing new on the campaign trail, the range of offenses and the creativity of the cover-ups have diversified since the pre-Gary Hart days when affairs were routinely ignored by the political press corps.
Today, of course, we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum, with the jury literally out in the trial of former senato John Edwards in Greensboro, N.C. His long-suffering daughter Cate, 30, has been at his side, an embodiment of her late mother, Elizabeth Edwards, who suffered severe collateral damage from her husband’s affair with Rielle Hunter.
Although John Edwards is on trial for allegedly violating campaign finance laws in the process of hiding the affair, interest is no doubt stoked by the prospect of a harsh reckoning for someone who cheated on his wife while she was battling terminal cancer.
But is John Edwards the worst offender among the fraternity of rogue political husbands? Consider the competition:
1. Cheating on your wife while a newlywed, like former Brooklyn congressman Anthony Weiner. (Subtract five points if the “cheat” is via Twitter and unconsummated, but add 10 if your wife is pregnant.)
2. Renewing your wedding vows while your mistress is pregnant, as Edwards did; what could go wrong?
3. Cheating on your wife without making your staff complicit, as former S.C. governor Mark Sanford did. He told aides he was hiking the Appalachian Trail solo while actually in Argentina with his “soulmate.” (Add 10 points for using the word “soulmate.”)
4. Cheating while making your staff lie and cover up, like Edwards, who got staffer Andrew Young to publicly claim paternity for his child.
5. Cheating with hookers, like former New York governor Eliot Spitzer. (Add 15 points for hypocrisy if you are prosecuting hookers in public life at the same time.)
6. Cheating while running for president, like Edwards, unbeknownst to supporters and, if nominated, at considerable risk to his party.
7. Cheating with someone of the same sex while you work out orientation issues, like former N.J. governor Jim McGreevey.
8. Cheating while advertising your good taste in a mate and awesomeness as a husband and dad, like...oh yeah, Edwards.
9. Cheating while Bill Clinton. (Includes, but is not limited to cheating at the White House, cheating with an intern, and then calling her “that woman.”)
Alas, the competition is all too fierce in this pathetic horse race. So here’s hoping, however implausibly, that men in public life learn to bolster their egos without duping the women in their lives.
Lori Stahl, who covers politics in Texas, thanks “She the People” colleagues for their input on this post. Follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.