Not necessarily a disqualifier

NOT NECESSARILY A DISQUALIFIER…. Following up on this week’s revelations about Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) adulterous affair, the Washington Post has a report today about the 2012 field.

In the wake of the revelation of Sen. John Ensign’s extramarital affair, The Post asked politicians, former officials and others to take stock of the GOP field for 2012.

Left unsaid was the observation that many political observers probably assumed, upon learning of the Ensign controversy, “Scratch one name from the 2012 GOP field.” Indeed, the New York Daily News had an item the other day that noted:

Many believed he was aiming to make a bid for the presidency in 2012, which could now be a long shot since evangelicals dominate the GOP primary process and such moral lapses are frowned upon by religious conservatives in the party.

Maybe, but not necessarily.

Sure, Ensign’s affair is humiliating. And sure, the fact that he’s championed “family values” and lectured others on the “sanctity” of marriage makes his adultery more embarrassing than most.

But it may be premature to assume that the controversy derails Ensign’s presidential plans.

Clearly, Ensign has been positioning himself for a presidential run. Despite carrying on an adulterous affair throughout 2008, the Nevada Republican apparently thought his adultery would remain a secret, and he began raising his visibility, traveling to Iowa, and working his way up the GOP leadership ladder.

But let’s not forget that when it comes to Republicans and adultery, the intuitive political dynamic is backwards. Given that the GOP presents itself as the “family values” party, it’s tempting to think Republicans caught in affairs would pay a higher price. The opposite is true.

Note that John McCain and Rudy Giuliani were the first presidential candidates in American history to run after their adulterous affairs were in the public record. Newt Gingrich’s scandalous personal life hasn’t stopped speculation that he, too, might run in 2012.

If personal disgraces are overlooked for other high-profile Republicans, why should Ensign necessarily be ruled out as a national candidate?