ENSIGN WANTS TO RUN AGAIN (IF HE’S NOT IN JAIL)…. Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) has no intention of letting a little thing like a criminal investigation interfere with his re-election plans.

Over the past month, Ensign has crisscrossed Nevada, holding a number of official Senate events to show voters that the messy fallout from his affair hasn’t undermined his responsibilities. He’s reaching out to fundraisers — for his legal expense fund and for his campaign accounts — and he’s making no secret to the local press and his supporters that he is not yet ready to call it quits from politics.

For Ensign to succeed in 2012, and ward off primary challengers, he’ll need to shore up support from conservative voters who he hopes forgive him for his infidelity with former aide Cynthia Hampton and overlook the ethics inquiries that still dog him as a result of that affair.

CREW’s Melanie Sloan recently noted, “Senator Ensign had an extended affair with a campaign staffer, who happened to be married to his chief of staff Doug Hampton, fired them both, and had his parents pay them off without properly reporting it to the Federal Election Commission. He then conspired to help Mr. Hampton to set up a lobbying business to lobby his own office, in violation of federal law.”

That’s the long and the short of it. And with these scandalous details in mind, of course Ensign is thinking about re-election.

Here we have a “family values” conservative Republican who had an extra-marital sexual relationship with his friend’s wife, while condemning others’ moral failings. Ensign’s parents offered to pay hush-money. He ignored ethics laws and tried to use his office to arrange lobbying jobs for his mistress’ husband. The likelihood of Ensign being indicted seems fairly high. He’s already the target, not only of a Senate ethics probe, but also of an ongoing FBI investigation.

Ensign probably doesn’t mention while he’s crisscrossing Nevada, but by 2012, he may be facing criminal conviction.

But this ties in to what we were talking about yesterday: there’s just no such thing as being “permanently disgraced” when it comes to Republican politics. It’s why South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) is considering future campaigns; it’s why Newt Gingrich is a media darling considering a presidential race; it’s why Dick Morris is a Republican celebrity; it’s why Ralph Reed can host a well-attended D.C. confab; and it’s why David Vitter isn’t the slightest bit embarrassed running for re-election in Louisiana.

It gives new meaning to the word “shameless.”

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.