It’s a big country, where states have their own legal peculiarities, political cultures and definitions of what makes a debilitating political scandal. Take Texas, for example, where the Republican governor, Rick Perry, has been indicted for abuse of office.
In the past 25 years, we’ve seen politicians and government officials increasingly treat scandal less as catastrophe and more as just another cost of doing business. Perry, however, has taken this to a completely new level: He is wearing his indictment as a badge of honor and has smoothly returned to his 2016 presidential campaign without missing a beat.
His is a compelling change of pace. Consider: It’s been a hell of a decade for scandal among state governors — and virtually all reacted with an advanced degree of alarm. In 2004, Democratic Governor Jim McGreevey of New Jersey, threatened with a lawsuit by another man, promptly held a press conference, revealed himself as a “gay American” and announced his impending resignation. In March 2008, news broke that New York’s Democratic governor, scourge-of-Wall-Street Elliot Spitzer, had patronized call girls. Another press conference, another resignation. Later that year, Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested by federal agents and charged with corruption for his attempt to sell Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. Blagojevich launched an animated attempt to clear his name before he was impeached, removed from office, tried and sent to prison.
South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford disappeared briefly in 2009 and was discovered in Argentina — where he had gone to be with his Latin mistress. He fought impeachment proceedings until the end of his term. When Republican Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia was indicted last year for corruption and bribery, he apologized for bringing “embarrassment” to the state. He is now on trial. Meanwhile, Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, involved in an investigation of improper fundraising during his 2012 recall campaign, has been vigorously fighting subpoenas.
So how did Perry respond to his recent indictment? Did he act the way we picture politicians behaving in such crises — dropping all other political business, huddling with advisers to plot alternative means of damage control, desperately phoning donors to keep them from jumping ship, lawyering up and hunkering down?