By
hardball
updated 3/28/2013 1:20:44 PM ET 2013-03-28T17:20:44

There's speculation David Vitter may run for governor; Mark Sanford is running for Congress; and Anthony Weiner shelled out more than $100,000 on polling. "What's different that allows politicians to survive sex scandals that were once fatal?" asks Chris Matthews.

While there may be nothing new about political sex scandals, what may be new is the “get out of jail free” cards that scandal-stained lawmakers seem to have in their back pockets.

First, look at Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, who was caught up in a prostitution scandal in 2007. Just a few years later, in 2010, the state’s voters easily propelled the Republican back into office for a second, six-year term. Now speculation suggests he may run for governor in 2015 when current Gov. Bobby Jindal’s term is up.

How about former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner? He’s reportedly already eyeing a comeback from the 2011 sexting scandal that forced him to resign. The New Yorker  recently shelled out more than $100,000 for polling and research.

Finally, there’s former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, whose political career was derailed in 2009 following revelations of an extramarital affair with an Argentinian television reporter. Now he’s running in a special election for the House. Polls show the Republican neck-and-neck with Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch (comedian Stephen Colbert’s sister).

“What’s different that allows politicians to survive sex scandals that were once fatal?” Hardball host Chris Matthews asked Wednesday night. “Is it changing times? The culture? Does it depend on where you live?”

The Washington Post’s Emily Heil told Matthews that it shows “just how much we’re willing to forgive” nowadays. Vitter, she said, was “put out to the woodshed for awhile…[and now] he’s a-okay. He’s everybody’s best pal and he’s really completed his rehabilitation. Clearly there’s a template for this, and I think what he did, he sort of stuck around and kept his head down, which is one strategy.”

Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, said he was surprised by Sanford’s comeback, especially because the state is conservative.

“What I think is different now, is that you don’t have to have the charisma or family name of a Ted Kennedy or the dazzle of a Bill Clinton,” said Robinson, in reference to Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick incident and Clinton’s dalliance with a White House intern.  “You can be Vitter, who was not exactly Mr. Charisma and you can survive now.”

So can lawmakers like Weiner really make a comeback?

“I think he can,” said Heil. “Maybe not now, not in the immediate future, but he’s young, he’s got fundraising ability, he’s got friends and he can always say he never actually had an affair….so I say some day, maybe.”

Video: The political comeback kids

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    >>> be a wild subject here. we're back, and there's nothing new about political sex skand ams or scandals or sex. what is new is the get out of jail free cards politicians are now being issued. louisiana senator david vistter was linked to an escort service . nice way to put it. south carolina governor mark sanford disappeared from office. spent time out of the country in argentina with his mistress. both of these gentlemen have emerged with political careers apparently intact. even anthony weiner , the democratic congressman sexting seemed to net new standards for inappropriate behavior by a public official. he's eyeing a comeback, apparently taking a poll to see if he can come back for something in new york. what's different for survive scandals that were once fatal? gene robinson is ready for this one. he's a political expert and emily is also with "the washington post ." emily , what do you make of david vitter 's durability? going to professional sex workers they are called now, everybody knows about it, all his voters knew about it, he's back and they are talking about him for governor.

    >> it's truly amazing. it really is. i think it shows how much we are willing to forgive. david vitter was put out to the woodshed for a while here in washington. you would see him downen on the floor, on the senate, and he would look lonely. i don't know what went on behind closed doors . maybe they were a little friendlier and warmer and didn't ostracize him but he's put that behind him and a couple years later he's a-okay. he's everybody's best pal and he's really completed his rehabilitation. he's out of the woodshed. so clearly there's a template for this and i think what he did was stuck around and kept his head down, which is one strategy, with you there are plenty of ways for men -- we don't have women with sex scandals .

    >> hold on for a second. gene, you used to edit all of this and decide what to put in the paper.

    >> yeah.

    >> what about -- i would have never marked mark sanford for a reason so quickly.

    >> no. i am surprised. first of all, south carolina is a fairly conservative state. it's conservative at this point and also the way sanford handled his situation, he disappeared while he's a sitting governor.

    >> yeah, he had a smoking barrel invitation out with the campaign out in the woods.

    >> and jenny stanford declined to play the loyal wife. you put all of this together and you say --

    >> let's watch this. i think yor right. check him out, the former governor of south carolina in his campaign ad pleading with voters to look past -- you can't look past it. but ignore his infidelity.

    >> more recently i experienced that none of us go through life without mistakes but in the wake we can learn a lot about grace, a god of second chances and be the better for it. in that light, i humbly ask for your help in changing washington.

    >> nobody is perfect, emily . i'm not jumping into this with both feet but what is this mistake he's talking about? why do politicians say mistakes when he really wanted to do something, he fell in love with this woman in argentina. he's marrying her.

    >> it's a you've fa michl.

    >> for what?

    >> well, any number of things. we know what it means but --

    >> it means i want my job back.

    >> exactly. when you heard about david vitter , all he ever really admitted to, remember, was a very serious sin, and that's a quote. he never said hooker. he never said prostitute.

    >> you just did.

    >> he never said infidelity. that's our job. his job is to just call it a very serious sin and make us think that that's addressing it. we saw last night, david petraeus , the cia director , former cia director who had to resign amid this big scandal that he was having an affair with his biographer. you know, he talked about -- didn't talk about it, but hinted that it might be in his future. there's a the lo of ways to do it. and everyone -- there's no one script for doing it.

    >> i have a solution. i gave my example. comeback is a word i've always given to bill clinton . he's like one of those things, they come back up, those plastic things. he always comes back up. i think he's been able to get through all the problems with the monica and all that stuff that was so unpleasant at the time because people thought that impeachment was way overkill.

    >> yeah.

    >> way overkill, for one thing. and number two, he's so open. he's not hiding anything.

    >> i think that's another factor. you can go all the way back to teddy kennedy who survived.

    >> that's not a scandal.

    >> it's different but that was a scandal.

    >> somebody survived.

    >> that's right. in that ways, an accident caused probably by drirveging.

    >> exactly. right. so what i think is different now is that you don't have to have the charisma or family name of a ted kennedy .

    >> yeah.

    >> the daz sdplel of a bill clinton . you can be vitter who --

    >> okay. up or down, emily ? and then gene. i'll save gene for this unwith. w echl weiner, is he going to come back? i don't know if there's anything wrong with the guy or not but it was so weird, his behavior. what do you think? can he come back?

    >> yes, i think he can. maybe not now, not in the immediate future, but he's young. he's got fundraising ability, he's got friends and he can always say he never actually had an affair. you know, he engaged in some pretty inappropriate stuff. there's some really embarrassing pictures out there. but, you know, he didn't actually haven a affair. so i say some day maybe.

    >> i want her on my jury. emily , join my jury if i get in trouble.

    >> go ahead.

    >> rehab. he's go the to do some rehab.

    >> i think she's a star and will be his best character witness. thank you, gene robinson . what a liberal crowd we are. emily heil, thank you. please come back. and we'll be back just after

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