One of the most memorable quotes in the recent New York Times Magazine story on former representative Anthony Weiner’s prospects for a political comeback came from Weiner’s brother, Jason Weiner.
“I wouldn’t stand for other people saying this about him, but there was definitely a douchiness about him that I just don’t really see anymore.” His family agrees that the post-scandal Weiner, the diaper-changing Weiner, is far more likable. “No one has been harder on him than he has been on himself,” Jason says. “I find that refreshing, because he was always — in his political career, and it was sort of overflowing into his personal life — this completely decisive, ‘this is the right thing because this is what I’m doing.’ It’s like this circular reasoning that was kind of hubristic. He doesn’t have that anymore. The irony is that it could make him a better politician.”
The attitude adjustment came after Weiner resigned his congressional seat following a scandal involving lewd photos posted to Twitter.
That outlook reverberates on the dawn of another scandalized politician’s return to politics.
Former S.C. governor Mark Sanford (R) outgunned Elizabeth Colbert Busch (D) in many ways to win his old congressional seat, after his very public affair seemed to mortally wound his political career in 2010.
Sanford out-hustled his opponent on the ground, as my colleague Karen Tumulty pointed out and assembled a superior campaign staff, as The Fix noted.
Worth pointing out: Colbert Busch ran a laconic campaign. Few appearances, little access. Sanford ran hard, like an underdog. #sc01
— Karen Tumulty(@ktumulty) May 8, 2013
Sanford won handily, 54-45 percent, despite strong fundraising from Colbert Busch, the help of her famous brother, comedian Stephen Colbert, and little support from the GOP establishment for Sanford.
It’s no small feat of egotism to convince oneself you can overcome a political free fall like the one Sanford took. But it’s also true that politicians, like anyone else with nothing left to lose, are freed up by their diminished stature to be more open than when they are on the ascent. It often behooves them to return to their roots, honest and exposed, and reconnect with constituents. And even if it’s more of a political strategy than a genuine change in perspective, it works.
The head-down, constituent-focused approach worked for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who won re-election in 2010 following a prostitution scandal (I should note here I worked previously as a Senate staffer for Vitter).
Sanford seemed to do that. He was open with the media, accessible and approachable to his would-be constituents, and focused on the people of his district instead of the national media perception or his prospects for higher office.
Somewhere in Manhattan, the Weiner family is likely taking note.
As the next phase for Sanford begins in Washington, we’ll get to see how he applies the lessons learned during his rise, fall, and crawl back to politics to governing in a body where not many have survived such a humbling ride.