Page 3 of 3
Either way, the ease with which many have been able to mount political comebacks after a scandal is pretty striking when you consider that elective office, unlike other careers, requires a literal vote of confidence from vast numbers of constituents.
There do seem to be some rules, though, for mounting a successful political comeback. As a prerequisite, you must own up to what you did and show genuine remorse. But, paradoxically, you also can't seem too overcome by shame: You need to indicate that you've moved on and that you expect others to, as well.
The nature of the scandal also clearly makes a difference. Scandals involving homosexual activity have proved far more difficult to overcome, particularly for Republicans (see former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig and former Florida Rep. Mark Foley, among others). Former California Rep. Gary Condit (D) was cleared in the death of intern Chandra Levy, for which another man was convicted – but the murder of a young woman, with whom he'd apparently had an inappropriate relationship, still proved impossible for him to get beyond.
And it is certainly harder – though not impossible – for elected officials to get past illegal activity (on the local level, former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry – who went to jail on drug charges, was subsequently reelected as mayor, and now sits on the city council – comes to mind).
Finally, there do seem to be some "moral decency" limits as to what the public is willing to forgive. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D) may be off the hook, legally, for his affair with a videographer working for his presidential campaign. But the deep public sympathy for his late wife, Elizabeth, who was fighting cancer while the extramarital affair was taking place, seems likely to prohibit any sort of political comeback for him.
You never know, though.