By
Jansing & Co.
updated 3/21/2013 5:16:58 PM ET 2013-03-21T21:16:58

As Mark Sanford launches a political comeback in South Carolina, strategists explain why some politicians can comeback and others can't.

Disgraced South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has completed phase one of his improbable comeback.

Once the butt of jokes after he resigned in 2009 after admitting to an extramarital affair with an Argentinean woman, he finished first among 16 Republican candidates in Tuesday’s primary for a Congressional seat. Sanford garnered 37% of the vote, but he still faces a run-off next month because none of the candidates hit the 50% mark. On the Democratic side, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, handily won the Democratic primary with 96% of the vote.

Mark Sanford’s showing leads to the question: What separates the political wrecks from the rebounders?

“If you set aside this very public personal failing, [Sanford] was very popular as governor,” Republican strategist Kristen Soltis told Chris Jansing on Jansing & Co. “He was actually talked about as a potential contender for the Republican nomination for President at one point.”

Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is another politician most people left for dead after he resigned in a sexting scandal in 2011. Now, there’s speculation he’s eyeing a run for New York City mayor. The Wall Street Journal reports he spent more than a $100,000 on polling and research this month. “I guess you could never underestimate the desire of former politicians to become current politicians,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.  He said it’s a much more difficult road for Weiner to return because there are a lot more serious opponents.

Soltis said the key to surviving scandal is to “get back to focusing on substance and to allow the salacious conversation to become a side conversation.”

Yet, Kofinis said sometimes the problem is getting back in the game “too fast.”

“I think Sanford is jumping too fast. I think Congressman Weiner is jumping too fast,” he said. “I think you have to step back sometimes and do something non-political in order to become more established, more credible again.”

Video: Mark Sanford becomes latest politician mounting a comeback

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    >>> meantime, mark sanford has completed phase one of his improbable comeback. once the butt of jokes, he finished first last night among 16 republican candidates with an impressive 37% of the vote. and he's advanced to next month's republican runoff for an open congressional seat. over on the democratic side, elizabeth colbert-bush easily won the democratic primary .

    >>> now sanford 's showing leads us to the question, what separates the political wrecks from the rebounders?

    >> indeed i did have a relationship with ms. lewinski that wasn't appropriate.

    >> i have not been honest with myself, my family, my constituents, my friends, and supporters and the media.

    >> here to talk about political comebacks, democratic strategist and former edwards campaign communications director chris kafinas. good morning to you both.

    >> thanks for having me.

    >> so, kristen , sanford was having an extramarital affair with an argentinian woman. hiking in the appalachian trail became synonymous with cheating for a while. did you think you'd ever see this? what we saw last night?

    >> i didn't think so. but as soon as he entered the race, hooest got the sort of name i.d. that would make him a strong contender. let's not forget besides, if you set aside this very public personal failing, he was very popular as governor. he was actually talked about as a potential contender for the republican nomination for president at one point. so, you know, he was well liked setting aside this one really public personal foible. makes a little more sense when you think about it in that context.

    >> well, meantime, former new york congressman anthony weiner is another politician most people left for dead after he resigned in that sexting scandal in 2001 . now i'm sure as you know, chris , he's eyeing a run for new york city mayor and the " wall street journal " reports he's already spent more than $100,000 on polling and research this month. is he going to make a comeback too, do you think?

    >> well, i guess you could never underestimate the desire of former politicians to become current politicians. i think it's possible -- i mean, it depends on -- a lot of this depends on where you're running. with sanford , he was running his old district. it's a congressional race, very different dynamics than, say, if you're running for governor, let alone if you're running for national office. you know, and congressman weiner's position, in terms of running for mayor, a little bit more challenging, a lot more serious opponents. that, i think, becomes more of a difficult road to go down. but, you know, i guess it's possible. it really kind of depends on how you reintroduce yourself. becomes very difficult depending on the type of scandal you went through. and he went through a doozy.

    >> let me name some other names in that case. you've got louisiana senator david vitter surviving a prostitution scandal , bill clinton has never been more popular. on the other side, john edwards and larry craig , of course, of the infamous bathroom footsies. what do you think separates someone who can come back from someone who doesn't?

    >> i think if you look at a lot of people who have come back. bill clinton being perhaps the best example. someone who was able to sort of get back to focusing on substance and allow that sort of salacious conversation to become a side conversation. for someone like mark sanford , in order to have a big rebound, he's going to have to focus on things like his record as governor, things that make him popular from a policy perspective so that the conversation isn't just one about personality.

    >> is it mostly about that, do you think, chris ? or is the key you've got to apologize and look somewhat sincere? you've got to get punished and seem to suffer. more than just, say, get your name recognition up by being mocked by leno and letterman.

    >> you can never underestimate the ability of the american people to forgive someone. that is a truism of politics. that being said, you know, for a politician to go out there and say sorry after they made a big mistake , that's not a profound strategy. it really is a long road to basically rehabilitate yourself. and it's more than just saying it, you've got to do something like substantive. and i think some of the mistakes that some of these politicians who have been in these scandals, and i know a couple --

    >> worked for at least one. okay.

    >> yeah, exactly.

    >> and so i think the problem i think -- the mistake they make is not being serious about how they come back. they jump too fast. i think sanford is jumping too fast, i think congressman weiner is jumping too fast. you've got to step back sometimes and do something nonpolitical in order to become more established, more credible again. and that doesn't always, i think, happen because they're so eager to get back in the game.

    >> yeah, and i wonder, kristen , too, if you have to know somebody who you can really listen to and have the humility after going through a humiliating experience to listen to someone from the outside who has a little more perspective than the sycophants who hang around and say, don't let this get you down, you know?

    >> yeah, i think that's got to be a really important thing for a politician who falls out of the limelight. though, i would say going through a scandal, you probably lose a lot of the sycophants along the way because you become damaged goods. in a weird way, going through one of these scandals where you've done something terrible and suddenly your stock has fallen a lot, i suppose at the end of that you find out who your true friends are who are the ones sticking by you. i think a good humbling is probably very good for most pop tigss. and maybe what's enabling some of these comebacks.

    >> kristen , chris , thank you, both.

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