USA: Can the Cocaine Congressman Save His Political Career?

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If the "cocaine congressman" Trey Radel wants to rebrand himself as the conservative congressman, or even congressman-courageous, he will have to do a lot better public relations job. Already a number of conservative southwest Florida Republicans have indicated they will challenge Radel in the Aug. 26, 2014 primary.

But Radel can clean up his image – if he follows AAA rules from the PR Playbook. Acknowledge doing a bad thing. Apologize for doing the bad thing. And finally, promise not to the bad thing again.

Acknowledge. The congressman has already admitted that he did a bad thing. So far, so good.

Apologize. He apologized – but it was a pretty lame apology. He blamed his drug problems partly on his mother, for having the nerve to die on his wedding day. This kind of apology will create more problems than it solves. Americans are forgiving folks, so it's just better to blame yourself and admit you screwed up royally.

Act. The congressman has promised to do better in the future. Now he has to keep his promise. Anthony Weiner surged in the polls when he entered the race for mayor of New York City. But his support dropped faster than his pants when the media found that he was sexting after he promised not to do it again. People dislike liars as much as they dislike addicts.

If Congressman Radel works through the three As and keeps his nose clean, his constituents will admire his courage and reelect him. The congressman is now in a drug treatment center to kick his coke habit. If he rehabilitates himself physically and mentally, he has an extra burden to overcome to save his political career.

It's more difficult for a Republican to recover from a social scandal than it is for a Democrat. Republicans have made themselves self-appointed guardians of public morality. When Congressman Anthony Weiner's pornographic photos became public, Republican House Speaker John Boehner called for Weiner's head on a platter. The speaker has not called on Rep. Radel to resign. The gap between Republican rhetoric and reality is hypocrisy. The hypocrisy factor means Republicans fall faster and harder when they sin.

Brad Bannon, a Democratic consultant, is president of Bannon Communications Research, a Washington, D.C. based political polling and consulting firm. Follow him on Twitter at @BradBannon.

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