It bodes well for Anthony Weiner's mayoral campaign that the biggest reaction to his latest sexting scandal was amusement over his online pseudonym, "Carlos Danger." Then, during his hastily called press conference to announce that he was staying in the race, Weiner's mea culpa made less news than the gray-haired man poking his head above the cubicle behind him -- that man, inadvertently photobombing the press conference, became a viral sensation as the "Cubicle Guy," with some Twitter users theorizing that he might possibly be "the real Carlos Danger."
The latest poll giving him a low rating on moral character is meaningless. After the dust settles, when the next poll comes out that fully factors in the impact of the sexting scandal, it will likely show that it had little, if any, effect on Weiner's standing in the race. It might even show him pulling ahead of the pack. Voters today are hardly scandalized by "traditional" sex scandals. Over the years, such scandals have actually launched many reality stars' careers and revived those of countless fading celebrities. For former president Bill Clinton, it helped to galvanize his popularity.
But when the scandal broke, it could have gone either way. The reason why it won't hurt Weiner's chances in the mayoral race is because, overall, he did all the right things at the press conference. He fessed up immediately and thoroughly to the facts, denounced his behavior, and let his devoted and, one assumes, heroically suffering wife, Huma Abedin, address the audience to reaffirm that she is standing by her man. More importantly, Huma appeared very pale and vulnerable, coming across as a delicate yet resilient creature, whose devotion to her wandering husband and dedication to his career was a thing to admire rather than ridicule. She spoke shakily, haltingly, and her speech may in fact have won Weiner the race.
Too Much, Too Soon
And while Weiner's political rivals were ecstatic over the news, they got it wrong by coming out en masse to denounce his actions. It gave the impression that they were piling it on too heavily and kicking a dog when it's down, and may possibly have led to a voter backlash that strengthened Weiner's position rather than weakened it. Trust in politicians is at an all-time low, and voters are extremely leery of politicians who trash their rivals over their supposedly immoral behavior -- they see it more as the pot calling the kettle black than righteous anger from a righteous person. Meanwhile, city newspapers calling for his resignation will have little impact on voters. Over the years, their descent into gossip journalism has eroded their credibility and, in any event, they hold little relevance in the age of social media.
In an ironic and improbable twist, the scandal may have actually strengthened Weiner's chances of winning the mayoral race. Ask most men about the pictures, and they'll say they admire his astonishing recklessness in continuing to post graphic pictures of himself online even after blowing his congressional career and endangering his political future. Like Steve-O and his Jackass troop nailing their genitals to the wall, it was clearly unwise, and yet, fascinating. Women look at Huma and see a human being like themselves, who publicly accepts a weak and imperfect husband -- as most husbands are -- and resolutely "has his back" during his most trying times.
Clearly, Weiner has no choice but to stay in the race and tough it out. If he quits now, there's almost no chance he can ever resurrect his political career, and private sector opportunities will also be slim. By staying in the race, he at least has a chance of coming out a winner. A chance, no matter how slim, is better than no chance at all.
But Weiner needs to navigate this treacherous terrain of opportunity very carefully and methodically. That means holding on to his wife's support, putting his nose to the grindstone, staring grimly ahead at the finish line, and soldiering on.
Oh, yes, and no more sexting. Please!