Assessing the impact of Anthony Weiner
New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s planned resignation Thursday afternoon will bring to an end a scandal regarding his acknowledged “inappropriate” online behavior.
But what has Weiner’s weeks-long wind-twisting done to his party's short term and long term political prospects — if anything?
In conversations with a number of senior Democratic strategists, there was a general consensus that the long term impact was minimal (at most) but that in the near term Weiner’s public political implosion did have some effect — particularly following a special election victory earlier last month.
“There is zero impact except a loss of some short-term Democratic momentum after [the] special election win,” said one longtime party operative granted anonymity to speak about the matter prior to Weiner’s official resignation.
A look at the timeline of the past three weeks reveals how Weiner’s scandal stepped on the good news coming out of western New York.
On May 24, Rep. Kathy Hochul (D) won the special election to replace former Rep. Chris Lee (R) in New York’s 26th district, a GOP-tilting seat that was one of only four that Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) carried in the 2008 presidential race.
Democrats seized on the upset victory as evidence that the budget plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan — and, specifically, its proposal to fundamentally alter Medicare — was a pure political loser.
While Republican elected officials publicly rejected the idea, privately party strategists worried about how the budget, which virtually every GOP Member voted in favor of, would play out in the 2012 election. Some even whispered that the vote could ultimately cost them the House majority they won in 2010.
Then Weiner accidentally sent a picture of his private parts meant for a college student in Seattle, Washington to his entire legion of Twitter followers. The picture hit the Internet on May 28 — just four days after the special election victory in the Empire State.
Weiner’s initial denials kept the story bubbling below the surface for several days. But by June 1, Weiner was siting down with all of the major television networks to dismiss the photo as a “prank” while also admitting that he could not say “with certitude” whether it was an image of his underwear-clad groin.
Five days later, Weiner held a press conference to announce he had been lying — and that he had engaged in “inappropriate” online conduct with as many as six other women.
Weiner managed to hold on — despite calls for his resignation from top Democratic leaders — for another 10 days, a period in which the lurid details of his conduct and the news that his wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was pregnant dominated the daily cable news chatter and filled up commenting sections across the web.
“Given that new photos seem to pop up randomly, he apparently has no idea of what else is out there,” said a senior Democratic strategist with extensive experience in New York politics. “As a result,the sword of Damocles wasn’t just dangling over him but the entire party.”
The Weiner story demanded so much media oxygen that the special election, Medicare and virtually every other political story shrunk in comparison.
That said, while Democrats may have taken a short-term momentum hit because of Weiner, it’s hard to imagine that the foibles — no matter how outrageous — of a single New York City Congressman who left office in June 2011 will have any larger or longer impact on the 2012 midterm election.
The Republican budget, on the other hand, will almost certainly be a centerpiece of Democrats’ push to take back the House majority.
Seen through that longer lens then, the Weiner scandal looks like a short-term momentum slower but generally without any extended political impact nationally.
In New York, however, there could well be a lasting impact on the decennial redistricting process.
The Empire State is slated to lose two congressional districts before the 2012 election due to population growth over the last decade that lagged the national average.
Weiner’s seat is now a prime target for elimination since it will be held by the most junior member of the New York delegation. (For an extended treatment of Weiner’s scandal on redistricting, check out our piece from last week.)
“We get to get back to the peoples’ business,” said one Democratic consultant, who follows New York politics closely, about the post-Weiner world. “And the district goes away and solves redistricting for Democrats, we hope.”