Arnold Schwarzenegger Future in Politics, Hollywood in Balance After Scandal

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's future plans could be tainted by scandal.

ByABC News
May 17, 2011, 4:27 PM

May 18, 2011— -- 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.)