Next Steps for John Edwards: Apologize Again and Disappear

After a North Carolina jury found former Sen. John Edwards not guilty on one count in a campaign-finance trial connected to the cover-up of an extramarital affair, and deadlocked on five other charges, Edwards had an opportunity to take the first steps in repairing his shattered public image. Unfortunately, his remarks to reporters outside of the courthouse following the May 31 verdict were delivered with the veneer of a seasoned politician making yet another stump speech, and did not go beyond the standard elements of a public apology.

Edwards thanked the jurors for their “incredible hard work and diligence” and for taking “their jobs very very seriously”; the American judicial system, as exemplified by the “fair and just” jurors; and his family, including his eldest daughter and his parents who appeared alongside him on the courthouse steps, for being there for him during the trial. He also expressed gratitude for his other children, including Frances Quinn Hunter, the daughter he had with Rielle Hunter.

Sadly, much of what Edwards said focused on himself and his own future. “I don’t think God is through with me," he said. "I really believe he thinks there are still some good things I can do.” He said however “this legal stuff” plays out, he is hopeful to help poor kids in downtrodden areas, as well as being a better dad.

He admitted that he did “an awful lot that was wrong,” but in the end he couldn’t strip away the tics of the terminally upbeat politician. His reference to God’s plans for him only sends a message that he continues to be focused mainly on his own future and not on the victims of his behavior.

A lot of work needs to be done to repair John Edwards’ personal brand—not just within political circles but also as a public figure. To that end, Gary Wells, senior managing director at Dix & Eaton, offers some next steps:

  • “First, John Edwards must again thank those who supported him, and must again apologize to those whom he hurt.”

  • “John Edwards must disappear. In a time of solitude and reflection, perhaps he can find again or anew what is important to him. Look at [former Illinois Governor] Rod Blagojevich. He did not disappear. As a result, he is now and perhaps forever a punchline. [Then] look at Chuck Colson. When he passed away recently, Colson obviously was remembered for his role in Watergate. But as he had found a fresh passion in his life after his self-imposed exile, that passion is how he defined himself, and how he forced the rest of the world to define him, too. More than anything, John Edwards must disappear and find what is important to him."

  • “John Edwards eventually will emerge again. And if he takes exile, if he finds what is important to him, then when he does emerge again and begins to follow whatever it is that is important to him, that will help define the person and the man. And that will help redefine what now is one of the most tarnished personal brands or reputations in America.”

Follow Sahil Patel: @sizpatel