In the political strategy books, this rule might be filed under T.
As in Tammy. As in Wynette, to the tune of “Stand By Your Man.”
Louisiana Rep. Vance McAllister, who last received national note when video surfaced of him kissing an aide — earning him the nickname “The Kissing Congressman” — has begun airing a campaign video featuring the woman he was not kissing (his wife) attesting to his fitness for office.
“Life is filled with ups and downs,” says Vance McAllister.
“But a man’s character is based on how many times he gets back up and stands again,” says Kelly McAllister, the mother of his five children.
“I’m lucky to have been blessed with a great family and a wonderful Christian wife,” he says.
“And I’m blessed to have a husband who owns up to his mistakes, never gives up, always fighting for the good people of Louisiana,” she says.
Just in case no one got the point, the Republican added a reverential fillip to the standard sign-off: “We approve this message because some things are just worth fighting for.”
If it seems like pouring salt into her wound — albeit with her acquiescence — it was also the latest example of what has become the de rigueur move for any politician trying to survive after a scandal: getting the wronged wife to vouch for him.
Such scandals have swirled unrelentingly around politics in recent years. Narcissism being what it is, the obvious advice — don’t do it and you won’t get in trouble — hasn’t caught on. The advice that has: You can survive if your spouse stands by you. You almost never can survive if she — and it is always a she — doesn’t.
A dramatic example of the Tammy came in January 1992 when Bill Clinton’s surging presidential campaign was poleaxed by former television reporter Gennifer Flowers’ claim that the two had engaged in a long-term affair. Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appeared on a special edition of CBS’ “60 Minutes” to try to stem the damage.
Clinton dodged whether he had ever taken part in an extramarital affair, other than to say he had caused “pain in my marriage,” but did specifically deny an affair with Flowers. (He admitted later that that was a lie.) He and Hillary Clinton made an impassioned argument for what she called a “zone of privacy” around political marriages. And she insisted their union was strong.
“I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” Hillary Clinton says, in an acutely Southern twang. “I’m sitting here because I love him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together, and, you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck, don’t vote for him.”
The whole thing would be replayed several years later after Clinton’s White House affair with Monica Lewinsky, but the Clinton duo remains together, their nearly 40 years of marriage testifying to the point of the Tammy: If I can forgive him, voters, you can too.
Oddly, perhaps, one of Hillary Clinton’s closest confidants would use the same strategy. Huma Abedin, a longtime Clinton aide, was the woman called upon to stand by her man when then-Rep. Anthony Weiner was found to have sent provocative sexual pictures to several women. Two years later, in 2013, Weiner surfaced to run for mayor of New York, with Abedin by his side in an introductory video.
“Look I made some big mistakes and I know I let a lot of people down,” said Weiner, a Democrat. “But I also learned some tough lessons. I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it my entire life and I hope I get a second chance to work for you.”
Added his wife, sitting next to him on a stoop: “We live this city and no one will work harder to make it better than Anthony.”
It may not have ended well — after more allegations arose, Weiner lost the Democratic primary and left the race by flipping off a reporter. But he left with his marriage seemingly intact.
Contrast that with South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, who enlivened his governorship when he was caught on a vacation that was supposed to involve hiking the Appalachian Trail but actually centered on an assignation with his Argentinian girlfriend. In his lengthy, apologetic press conference, no one was by his side.
True, after refusing to resign the governorship, he was, in seeming defiance of the rule, later elected to Congress.
But his wife at the time of the scandal certainly did not try to stanch Sanford’s political wounds. To the contrary, they fought in a long and bitter divorce; Jenny Sanford wrote a tell-all book named “Staying True” that excoriated him. They continue to tussle legally over his visitation with their youngest son; she recently demanded that he undergo anger management training and submit to a psychological exam.
In a Facebook post earlier this month with all the subtlety of a car crash, Sanford announced that he and his girlfriend had broken off their relationship due to the struggle.
“As I’ve expressed countless times, I am sorry for the way I handled the events of 2009, but no degree of acrimony will fix nor change its history,” Sanford said in a second post.
He had succeeded politically without the Tammy, but only to a point.
For political news and analysis, follow me on Twitter: @cathleendecker