News

Anthony Weiner, Susan Rice, Bill Clinton and Other Attempted Political Comebacks

With the dual failures of both Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner’s attempted comebacks, it’d be tempting to conclude that politicians should just accept political defeat when it comes their way and move on to other ventures. But that would be silly, as comebacks far more unlikely than those of Spitzer and Weiner succeed all the time. Here, we take a look back on the mixed bag that is the political resurrection.

The Political Comeback

With the dual failures of both Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner’s attempted comebacks, it’d be tempting to conclude that politicians should just accept political defeat when it comes their way and move on to other ventures. But that would be silly, as comebacks far more unlikely than those of Spitzer and Weiner succeed all the time. Here, we take a look back on the mixed bag that is the political resurrection.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Mark Sanford - Win

The former South Carolina Governor made national headlines in 2009 when he suddenly went missing for about a week. His office said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail (undoubtedly a good reason for a governor to leave town unannounced) but Sanford eventually admitted that he was cheating on his wife in Argentina. He survived impeachment proceedings, but was censured by the state legislature for using state funds for the trip, and now “hiking the Appalachian Trail” has become political slang for skipping out on official duties to have an affair.

While Sanford quickly said bye-bye to his 2012 presidential ambitions, he launched an surprise campaign for his old House seat earlier this year. Despite a whole slew of negative publicity throughout the campaign, including the revelation that he’d trespassed on his ex-wife’s property after their divorce, Sanford was victorious, and now represents South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Newt Gingrich - Fail

In 1994, then-Representative Gingrich helped Republicans take the majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, and quickly ascended to the Speakership. That was the high point of his congressional career: He quickly became the first Speaker to be reprimanded by the House on ethics charges, and then shut down the entire federal government because — and this is by Gingrich’s own account —President Clinton made him sit at the back of Air Force One. Facing growing dissent amongst his ranks, he announced his resignation from the House in 1998, referring to his fellow legislators as “cannibals.”

After a lucrative career in the private sector, Gingrich announced in 2011 that he would seek the Republican nomination for president. He was a hit in the debates (largely due to his penchant for insulting the moderators) and at one point stated unequivocally that “I’m going to be the nominee.” But he wasn’t, and dropped out of the race after losing a series of primaries.

John W. Adkisson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Richard Nixon - Win?

Nixon was perhaps the king of political comebacks. After serving two terms as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, he ran for president in 1960. He lost, then ran for governor of California two years later — and lost again. In his concession speech, he claimed to be giving his “last press conference” and, in one of the most self-pitying statements in political history, told the press that “you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore,” as he was leaving public service for good.

But they would, in fact, have Nixon to kick around anymore. In 1968, he ran for the Republican presidential nomination for the second time and won, itself a remarkable feat (can you imagine, say, Mitt Romney winning the nomination in 2016?). Nixon went on to win the presidency, and won reelection in 1972. Of course, he ultimately resigned in disgrace, but for a while, the mere notion of Nixon reaching the presidency was a joke.

David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Susan Rice - Win

This is a particularly satisfying comeback story, as the pitfall from which Rice ultimately came back arguably wasn’t her fault to begin with. A year ago, when U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens was killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Rice addressed the incident on the Sunday talk show circuit and explained that the attacks stemmed from spontaneous protests. Eventually, however, intelligence showed that the violence in Benghazi was in fact a coordinated terrorist attack, and even though Rice was just echoing what the administration thought to be true at the time, Republicans blamed her for the bad intelligence.

When President Obama hinted that he might nominate Rice for Secretary of State months later, Republicans in the Senate went ballistic, and pledged to filibuster her nomination. So Obama wisely tapped her as National Security advisor instead, a post that’s arguably more powerful than Secretary of State — and doesn’t require Senate confirmation. Check and mate.

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Bob Ehrlich - Fail

Ehrlich, elected governor of Maryland in 2002 after serving ten years in the House of Representatives, lost his reelection bid in 2006 to Martin O’Malley, aka the guy who was the basis for Tommy Carcetti in The Wire. This was understandable, as 2006 was a horrible year for Republicans, but Ehrlich was the only incumbent governor to lose reelection that year, which has to be a little embarrassing.

Four years later, it was shaping up to be an excellent year for the GOP. Ehrlich decided it was time to retake the governor’s mansion, and challenged O’Malley to a rematch. Unfortunately, he was unable to ride the wave that swept so many other Republicans into office that year, and was soundly defeated. Adding insult to injury, his campaign manager was convicted of electoral fraud for trying to suppress the black vote with phony robocalls, thus further tarnishing Ehrlich’s legacy. Now, Ehrlich’s political career is finished, while O’Malley is gearing up to run for president in 2016.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders - Win

Sanders currently represents Vermont in the U.S. Senate, and his seat is considered safe — but that wasn’t always the case. He first ran for the Senate in 1972, and lost. He ran for governor the same year, and lost that race as well. Four years later, he ran for governor again, and lost again. He took a ten year break from losing elections, then lost another gubernatorial campaign in 1986. Realizing the governor’s mansion might be out of his grasp, Sanders ran for the House of Representatives instead in 1988, and lost yet again.

Amazingly, he gave it another go in 1990, running for the House of Representatives — and this time, finally, he was successful. He proceeded to be reelected eight times in the House, and ran successful campaigns for the Senate in 2006 and 2012. This guy should be the sequel to The Little Engine That Could.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Bill Clinton - Win

Clinton is so successful at coming back, his nickname is “The Comeback Kid.” Granted, he gave himself that nickname, but it’s applicable nonetheless. He was elected governor of Arkansas in 1978 at the tender age of 32, but lost reelection two years later. Clinton gave it another go two years after that and won, and proceeded to win the Arkansas governorship continuously for the next ten years.

As a relatively unknown figure, Clinton was considered a long shot for the Democratic nomination for president in 1992. He got off to a poor start by losing Iowa, the first state to hold its nominating contest, and then lost in New Hampshire as well (although his strong second-place showing kept him in the running). After losing three more primaries, he finally triumphed in Georgia, wrangled the nomination away from California Governor Jerry Brown (who’s dad, by the way, defeated Nixon in ’62 — it’s all connected, see), and was ultimately elected president twice. As an encore, the Comeback Kid was caught lying under oath during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but survived the impeachment proceedings and left office with some of the highest approval ratings in presidential history.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
18