SO MUCH FOR RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM…. Sen. John Ensign (R) has put some effort into cultivating a certain image. For example, he’s a rugged westerner. Looking at the photo montage on his website, we see Ensign — sans tie — in a variety of “tough” settings, such as chatting with U.S. troops.

Having an extra-marital affair with an aide, who happens to be married to another aide, makes the Republican senator look like an ass, but it doesn’t necessarily interfere with the image he’s developed for himself.

But it’s the details that are emasculating.

Ensign is a member of something called the C Street group, which is part of a highly secretive religious outfit called ‘The Family’. It’s a combo religious fellowship and Capitol Hill group home where a number of Republican members of Congress live. And it’s run by a guy named Doug Coe. (Because the comedy never stops, remember that Gov. Sanford too is a member of the C Street group/Family.) In one of the more surreal episodes in this whole drama, while folks from ‘The Family’, including Sen. Coburn (R-OK), were trying to get Ensign to end his relationship with the girlfriend and write her and her husband a big check.

So Ensign agrees to do this. But the members of his fellowship had so little trust he could follow through that they had him write out a letter to the mistress that he was ending the relationship and then drove him to the local Fedex office to make sure he actually dropped the letter in the box. So he does that. But then after he shakes them loose he calls the mistress to tell her his friends made him write the letter and to ignore it.

This, coupled with Ensign’s decision to let his dad pay his mistress and her family, makes him appear about as un-rugged as any politician I’ve ever seen.

Now, if Ensign decides to stick it out and ignore calls for his resignation, he won’t face a re-election fight until 2012. In the interim, he’ll have time to rebuild the brand and look “tough” again, but it won’t be easy.

Maybe he can take up bear wrestling or something.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.