Arnold Schwarzenegger Future in Politics, Hollywood in Balance After Scandal

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Can former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger survive his sex scandal for a successful second act in politics or on the Silver Screen?

Time will tell for the man who made the phrase "I'll be back" famous in the 1984 thriller "The Terminator." But there are plenty of examples to suggest the answer could go either way.

Before news of his extramarital affair broke, Schwarzenegger was charting a course as a political advocate for his favored causes and seeking a reprise as a Hollywood star.

He joined President Obama at the White House last month for a private meeting of immigration reform "stakeholders." And in March, he stumped for environmental sustainability at an international conference in Brazil, part of his signature campaign to combat global climate change.

Schwarzenegger had even been urged by some supporters to seek new political leadership roles abroad since he's ineligible to run for president in the United States.

"In the next few years, the EU [European Union] will be looking for a much more high-profile president -- somebody who can unify Europe," Schwarzenegger chief of staff Terry Tamminen told Newsweek last month.

"The French won't want a German, and the Germans won't want an Italian. How about a European-born person who went off to America and...could return to be the Washington or Jefferson of a new unified Europe?"

Ultimately, it seemed Schwarzenegger was headed back to the movies, signing on to three starring roles earlier this month in the movies "Cry Macho," "The Last Stand," and another installment of "Terminator," his spokesman Alan Mendelsohn told the Contra Costa Times.

Those deals, and the credibility of his high-profile political advocacy, could now be in question, as the public and Schwarzenegger's critics pour over his personal and professional record with a new lens.

Recent history shows Schwarzenegger's future could hinge on his transparency and willingness to seek public forgiveness after his embarrassing sexual escapades have come to light.

Former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards remains politically radioactive and out of public view, more than a year after admitting to fathering a child with a former campaign aide, Rielle Hunter, in large part because of his convoluted attempts to cover up the affair.

"In order to survive a scandal like this, your family story can't be core to what your narrative is," said a former Edwards aide, who spoke about the Schwarzenegger case on condition of anonymity.

"With Edwards, his family man persona was what everybody liked about him," the aide said. "Also, an affair is one thing, but when there's a child involved that you refuse to acknowledge, it's another."

Meanwhile former Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, who resigned earlier this month after acknowledging an affair with the wife of his former top aide, faces a criminal investigation for allegedly trying to cover up his scandal.

A top California Democratic Party official Tuesday called for Schwarzenegger's finances to be scrutinized for a potential payoff, according to Radar Online, potentially adding a damaging dimension to the case.

But others have fared better after scandal, weathering the initial public and personal criticism and later continuing or rebuilding their public careers.

Fathering a child during an extramarital affair didn't stop Republican Carl Paladino, a businessman and political activist, from winning the New York GOP nomination for governor in 2010 and running on the ballot in the general election, though he fielded tough questions on the campaign trail. (He ultimately lost to Democrat Andrew Cuomo.)

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's messy affair with a congressional aide while he was married triggered his second divorce. But he publicly sought forgiveness for his actions and later married the aide, Callista, whom he now credits with his conversion to Catholicism and who stands proudly by his side in his ongoing bid for the presidency.

Former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, whose visits to prostitutes were exposed in a 2008 federal sting operation, swiftly resigned from office, made amends with his wife, and now hosts his own talk show on CNN.

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, a social conservative who confessed in 2007 to ties to the "D.C. Madam" prostitution ring, apologized for his "sins" but didn't step down. He still holds his job and won a second term in November.

And even former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, whose 1988 presidential bid was derailed by an affair with Donna Rice on the yacht "Monkey Business," remained active in politics years after the scandal broke, serving on President Bill Clinton's bipartisan National Security Commission in 1998 and supporting Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.

"Scandals like this hurt people who have built their credibility on being moral, and I don't think that Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever pretended to be a paragon of virtue," said conservative Daily Caller columnist Matt Lewis on ABC News'"Top Line."

Schwarzenegger did say, however, in a 2004 interview on "60 Minutes" that he's a "religious Republican" and goes to church "every Sunday." Perhaps that's one place he'll be spending more time in the days ahead.