Huma Abedin's blessing was critical to his mayoral campaign
Consultant says winning the trust of the person you harmed most is key to moving on
Women who are wronged by cheating spouse are often in no-win situation, psychologist says
Without Huma Abedin publicly forgiving him, it is unlikely that Anthony Weiner would be running to become New York’s next mayor.
“If his wife had not been by his side, Weiner’s hot dog would be cooked,” said Ana Navarro, a Republican political consultant and CNN contributor.
From the start of Weiner’s campaign, Huma Abedin’s blessing had been critical. Once Weiner acknowledged a desire to run for mayor, a year after the former New York congressman resigned over a sexting scandal in 2011, Abedin blessed her husband’s political aspirations in a number of high profile interviews.
And on Tuesday, after another round of sexting allegations emerged, Abedin once again stood beside him and publicly announced her forgiveness.
“It took a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy to get to a place where I could forgive Anthony,” Abedin said. “It was not an easy choice in any way, but I made the decision that it was worth staying in this marriage.”
Political consultants, psychologists and crisis communicators all give different opinions on why Abedin, a powerful Washington adviser and close confidant to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, publicly forgave her husband.
But by standing next to Weiner on Tuesday, Abedin joins a long line of political wives – including Clinton, her mentor – who stood next to their men as they answered questions about sexual impropriety.
Winning back trust – from your wife
Most experts said if Abedin hadn’t stood next to him, Weiner’s campaign for mayor could have been finished. Instead the campaign is severely damaged, but not irreparably.
“From a communication standpoint, I or any other person in my field would say the same thing. Tell the truth, get your wife up there with you, get her support and win the election,” crisis communication expert Robbie Vorhaus said.
Vorhaus said that winning the support of the person closest to you – the person whose trust you damaged the most – is the most important part of that formula.
“Once you have a wife, a spouse, standing up there and saying, ‘I forgive him,’ what right do we have, theoretically, to hold it against him,” Vorhaus said. “The truth is the ultimate spin and if he comes out and says, ‘I made a mistake, I made my peace with my wife and she has forgiven me and now I want to be mayor of New York.’ What do you, as a voter, say?”
Does a wife’s blessing help make a political comeback?
“Yes, it is critical,” said Don Goldberg, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and a partner at the Bluetext communications company.
But that might be changing, he said.
“I think we are in a real transition period here,” he said.
As proof, Goldberg points to newly elected Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina.
After the then-governor admitted to sneaking away to Argentina to be with his mistress in June 2009, Jenny Sanford moved out of the governor’s mansion and later divorced him.
But Sanford, after offering a mea culpa to the people of South Carolina, triumphed in special election last month.
“I think the conventional wisdom that the wife has to be supportive and that they can’t be out there trashing you,” Goldberg said. “South Carolina may show that is changing, though.”
Politics and publicity
Women in Abedin’s position are in a no-win situation, said Dr. Jeff Gardere, a clinical psychologist.
“If they don’t stand by that person, their family could be very much hurt by this,” he said.
There are a number of reasons that women stay with an unfaithful man, Gardere said: Children, religious beliefs, a feeling that they can change.
But when politics and publicity are involved, the situation is dramatically altered.
Hillary Clinton was with her husband in January 1998 when he denied having “sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Though she notably distanced herself from him as they later walked to Marine One, the duo is still married today.
“I think the campaign is much more difficult when the person next to you walks away,” Gardere said. “The message is ‘I am through with this person, I think he is deeply flawed.’ If you, the person who knows him best, walks away from him, it is harder for the public to believe in him.”
The enduring image of Tuesday’s news conference – where a uncomfortable Abedin stood next to her husband – sent mixed messages to voters and was a risky proposal, Navarro said.
“Not having the wife next to you can be certainly, in the short term, a death knell,” Navarro said. “But having her out there is a risky proposal because for most people, certainly most women, it was painful to watch her public humiliation and the guy responsible standing right next to her, looking over her shoulder. I think every woman watching that puts herself in that position.”
But according Goldberg, sort of public awkwardness is better than the alternative.
“I think that having the wife somehow involved, to whatever degree is very important,” Goldberg said. “What is important is to be viewed as not totally accepting, because then it looks like the marriage is a joke. But you have to have enough sense of acknowledgment and contrition that is looks and sounds genuine.”
A mutually dependent relationship
The theory Darrell Hayes, a crisis communications professor at American University, thinks about most when he sees a news conference like Weiner’s is “co-dependency.”
“It is the idea that people assume that it is better to fight through the relationship than break it off,” Hayes said. “I get the sense that is the case with Anthony Weiner.”
The reason for co-dependency, Hayes speculates, is possibly political aspirations for the family, not just her husband.
That opinion was echoed by a number of experts.
As for why Abedin stood next to Weiner, Goldberg said, “It is probably a combination of support, humility, embarrassment and ego.”
Navarro, who described Abedin as “a very strong, independent, successful” woman, said her standing beside Weiner on Tuesday opened the family up to a different line of questioning.
“Why do people want this so bad that they are willing to subject themselves to this humiliation again?”