On Friday morning, the 61-year-old Idahoan, wearing a gray suit with a powder-blue power tie, took a seat with a staffer and other traffic violation defendants at Alexandria District Court. Called before the judge, he pleaded guilty to drunken driving and received a suspended sentence of 180 days in jail, a $250 fine, a year’s suspension of his driver’s license and enrollment in an alcohol safety program. The hearing lasted 10 minutes.
Crapo’s real punishment will last much longer, and it is linked less to the severity of his transgression than the degree to which his crime clashed with the squeaky-clean image of Mormon politicians that Mitt Romney personified over the past year. (“I tasted a beer and tried a cigarette once as a wayward teenager and never did it again,” Romney told People magazine.) If Crapo has done himself lasting damage, it is most likely to be with Idaho voters, especially the quarter who are Mormon. They may question whether they know the man they have repeatedly elected, or whether the Potomac had poisoned their senator’s principles. “He held himself up to be a certain kind of guy: straight cut, Eagle Scout, family man, former Mormon Bishop,” said a Dec. 30 editorial in the Idaho State Journal. “Your reputation as a faithful Mormon conservative has been blown to smithereens.”
Crapo immediately tried to put such concerns to rest. “I have recently made personal choices that are at odds with who I am, who Idahoans rightly believe me to be and who I strive to be,” Crapo said Friday in front of more than a dozen reporters, cameramen and photographers in a courtyard outside the courthouse.
In his long, blanket apology, he asked the forgiveness of voters, who he said justly held him to a higher standard. Then he got specific. “In recent months, and for less than a year, I have on occasion had alcoholic drinks in my apartment. It was a poor choice to use alcohol to relieve stress — and one at odds with my personally held religious beliefs.” He declined to elaborate on the source of the stress and added that he hopped into the car because he had been “restless and could not sleep.” (“I was alone during this drive and never left my vehicle,” he clarified.)
Unlike the lewd-conduct arrest of Crapo’s former Idaho colleague, Larry E. Craig, the drunken-driving incident is unlikely to have an impact on Crapo’s reputation in the Senate, a chamber that is not particularly judgmental about the consumption of alcoholic beverages.