Whether Weiner Should Stay Or Go

Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner closes the front door of his building when arriving home in New York, on Thursday.

hide captionDemocratic Rep. Anthony Weiner closes the front door of his building when arriving home in New York, on Thursday.

Mary Altaffer/AP

There's been a lot on political minds this week — from Rep. Weiner's (D-N.Y.) tearful admission of engaging in inappropriate online relationships, to an economic showdown between President Obama and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Host Michel Martin discusses the week's politics with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cynthia Tucker and US News and World Report's Mary Kate Cary.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, we have a couple of updates on stories we've been following, and we'll hear what caught your ears on the program this week. It's our regular Backtalk segment. And in Faith Matters, we're going to meet the New York minister that the Obama administration has tapped to advance the cause of international religious freedom. That's all coming up.

But first, it's hardly been a dull week in the world of politics from the latest developments in the scandal known as Weiner gate, to news of a mass resignation of Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign staff, to GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney making bold decisions about his campaign. It's been hard to keep up, so we're going to try to make sense of all this with two of our regular commentaries whom we trust to make sense of these matters. Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and blogger for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She's here with us in our Washington, DC studios.

Cynthia, welcome back.

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, thank you.

MARTIN: Also with us, Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Mary Kate, welcome back. Happy Friday.

MARY KATE CARY: Happy Friday.

MARTIN: It's hard to know where to start, but I think we're going to start on Monday, because on Monday, Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner held this emotional, some would say cringe-inducing press conference where he owned up to, among other things, posting a photo of his guy parts on Twitter - in his underwear, but conducting these twitter relationships with a number of women over the past several years, including after his marriage. And he had been denying all, and had to admit that he was lying.

And throughout the week, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been calling for Representative Weiner's resignation, but as of yesterday, he says he's not resigning. And here he was caught on the streets - what we would call an unscheduled interview - so I'm going to call it an ambush interview - with the New York Post on the streets of New York yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

Representative ANTHONY WEINER: (unintelligible) I've betrayed a lot of people and I know it, and I'm trying to get back to work now and, you know, try to make amends to my constituents and, of course, to my family, of course.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But you said you are - you're not planning on resigning?

WEINER: I'm not.

MAN: Are there anymore pictures?

MARTIN: So, Cynthia, why don't you start? What how big of a headache is this, and if you feel comfortable saying, do you think he should resign?

TUCKER: You know, Michel, I am not sure what I would think of Weiner if I were a constituent of his. It's important to point out, however, some polls show that a majority of his constituents want him to stay. I personally find his behavior disgusting, appalling, sophomoric and a string of other adjectives I could use. And it is a big headache for the Democratic leadership, because it's changed the narrative. They believe that they had Republicans finally on the defensive over Medicare.

That's the narrative that they wanted to keep out before the public heading into the presidential elections in 2012. Republicans are going to destroy Medicare, and suddenly, this changes the narrative. So they're very annoyed. But again, you know, it is certainly possible that Weiner could ride this out. Another crisis, many crises will come along. Voters will forget. His wife seems to be standing by him, but if we hear that she's pregnant, which complicates matters a little bit for her.

CARY: Wait, Cynthia, are you saying that Mrs. Weiner has a bun in the oven?

TUCKER: Oh, my. Thank you. Thank you.

CARY: Da-dum, dum.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: We weren't expecting that from you. But, you know, I do want to ask, though, briefly about this. And it is a sort of a delicate subject, because, you know, Congressman Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, is a long-time aid to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, very well-respected in her own right as a behind-the-scenes person. And - so, one does wonder, though, whether her own sort of connectedness in Washington changes the calculation in any way. Mary Kate, what do you think?

CARY: Well, she works for Hillary Clinton, who, as we all know, has been through sort of similar travails. I can't imagine Mrs. Clinton disagrees with the way Huma is handling this. I do think that, you know, as a Republican, I think it would be great if he hung around for a little while longer. But as an observer of Washington and Congress, I think it's bad for the brand. I think it makes all the Congressman - just feeds the negative poll ratings for Congress, and I think there's a reason John Boehner's been kind of quiet about it.

MARTIN: What - well, you contrast this with, remember, the first one of these.

CARY: Right.

MARTIN: That was Representative Chris Hill of New York, also of New York - a different part of New York - who resigned almost immediately after word got out that he'd sent shirtless pictures of himself to a woman he met on Craig's List. And that, you know...

CARY: Yeah, well, Boehner was widely credited with getting that guy out that night. He also intervened, I think, with Mark Souder, who had an affair with an aide, and Boehner swooped right in and said got to go. So, I think there's a big contrast between the way the Democrats are handling this and the Republicans would have.

TUCKER: Well, actually...

MARTIN: Cynthia, what do you think?

TUCKER: ...the Democratic leadership is trying to get Weiner to resign. He's just refused to go so far.

MARTIN: Well, but it's also true that they can't - parties have a different set of identities. I mean, while Republicans tend to campaign more as the guardians of personal morality, which is something that progressives find, you know, annoying, in part because they feel, well, you know, you know, what about - why doesn't the - from the progressive standpoint, you know, why aren't people who damage the economy and throw people out of work, why aren't they seeing this, you know, persona non grata?

You know, why aren't they not invited to the parties anymore? That's kind of their perspective on that piece. But the parties, don't you think they have (unintelligible)...

TUCKER: Yes, they have different identities for yeah, personal morality.

MARTIN: Well, Democrats don't tend to campaign on personal morality (unintelligible).

TUCKER: I think it's important to point out that David Vitter from Louisiana, who was very much...

MARTIN: Senator.

TUCKER: Senator David Vitter, a family values Republican, is still in office, overwhelmingly reelected after he engaged a prostitute. So, Weiner may think, you know, if he did that and got away with it, why can't I stay?

MARTIN: I don't know. But then again, senators have six years to kind of repair their...

TUCKER: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...relationships with the public. And the - I don't know. That's always been puzzling to me.

TUCKER: I mean, on one hand, a lot of this stuff has happened in the last five years. There's been a lot more sex scandals, and I think a lot of it's because of social media, which has only been around five or six years.

MARTIN: Yeah, but (unintelligible) has been around a really long time. So...

TUCKER: Right, but you didn't see this immediacy that you saw before. But you also don't see the survival, because people forget because the immediacy, you know. So, I think it's complicating things in the last five years. It's not like Wilbur Mills jumping into the Tidal Basin. Remember that one?

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're having our weekly political chat with Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger, aspiring comedian...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...for U.S. News and World Report.

CARY: Doing my best.

MARTIN: Also with us, Cynthia Tucker from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. We're talking about a number of political stories taking center stage this week. Mary Kate, let's move onto the presidential race, Mitt Romney's camp. Remember, he ran three - well, in the 2008 campaign, former governor of Massachusetts, made a big announcement last week saying that their campaign has the made the decision that they're not going to participate in any straw polls, whether it's Florida, Iowa, Michigan or someplace else. Now, this is perceived as a really bold move on his part. What do you think?

CARY: I'm not that surprised at it, because at least in Iowa, there's two things going on. One is, it's social conservatives. You know, I was on the other day here with Bob Vander Plaats. He's a big social conservative in Iowa. And that's become the focus of what they want to talk about, and that doesn't really mesh with Mitt Romney's economic message. But second of all, the Iowa straw poll doesn't get you any delegates. And I think from a guy like Mitt Romney, who spent a million dollars on Iowa last time and came in second place, I think that it's an ROI kind of calculus for...

MARTIN: Return on investments.

CARY: Return on investment.

MARTIN: It's a businessman's investment (unintelligible).

CARY: Why spend all that money when you're not going to get delegates?

MARTIN: You know, Cynthia, one of the things I'm curious about is that Mitt Romney is still perceived as the frontrunner for the nomination and really the strongest possible opponent of President Obama in the general election, in part because of his business background. You know, he has a credible argument, look, I was a successful businessman. We tried it your way, now try it my way.

On the other hand, there's constant grinching about him within the GOP base. And I'm just curious, how are both things possible at the same time? He's both a frontrunner and people in his own base say he's inauthentic, you can't trust him, we don't trust him on the social issues. How is that possible?

TUCKER: We've seen this before, actually. We saw it with John McCain. There were a lot of very conservative Republicans who were very uncomfortable with John McCain. He was the sponsor of the McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform legislation. A lot of conservatives didn't like that. They saw him as soft on immigration reform. They didn't like that.

Yet, he came out - he was - he had been in the Senate a long time, so he knew issues well. He had a well-told personal story as a war hero and he won on nomination. Mitt Romney has some similar things going for him. He has high name recognition because he ran before. He does have successful record as a businessman and he's not crazy, as some of the reported folk who might get into the race, are perceived as being. I'm not going to call any names, but you know who we're talking about.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Eventually, we'll have to call names.

TUCKER: But, there are many things about him that the base doesn't like, particularly Romney Care, which is so similar to Obama Care. It has an individual mandate. And a lot of Republicans don't like that.

MARTIN: And there are also people who don't like the fact that they just feel that he's been two-faced on social issues. I think that's part of it. I mean, it's not just policy, it's also are you who you say you are?

Finally, Mary Kate, before we go, another candidate in the Republican field. Big news this week that there was a mass exodus of staff from former Speaker of the House, former Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich's campaign staff, what was that about? And is that a big deal? On the one hand you say, gosh, it's awfully early. On the other hand, I can't - I personally cannot remember a time when the entire staff, as a group, still hasn't jumped.

CARY: Spectacular implosion. Sixteen people 16 advisers, some more senior than others, but national co-chair Sonny Perdue defected to Pawlenty. Dave Carney and Rob Johnson went - are widely speculated to be going back to Rick Perry, which is where they came from. They ran Rick Perry's most recent governor campaign.

MARTIN: Texas governor.

TUCKER: Texas governor. I think what was really going on was, you had this disastrous launch where he went on Meet the Press and immediately attacked Paul Ryan, that caused all kinds of commotion in the Republican Party. Then it came out, he's got a $500,000 revolving credit line at Tiffany's. Not exactly man of the people territory there. Then he and his took off on a Greek cruise for two weeks. And I think that's when mutiny on the Bounty took place back home while he was the cruise.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARY: I think that...

MARTIN: Did he ever have a chance, though, really, Mary Kate?

CARY: I don't see how you recover. McCain had a similar staff implosion in 2007. He came back and got the nomination. But it sure looks bad to me. I think, you know, people love Newt, but he's undisciplined and I don't think he's known as a manager of staff.

MARTIN: Mary Kate Cary is a former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush. She's also a blogger and columnist for U.S. News and World Report. Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also blogs. They're both here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Thank you both so much. Happy Friday.

TUCKER: Happy Friday to you.

CARY: Happy Friday. Thanks for having us.

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