Can David Vitter Overcome Reputational Damage from a Crisis He Created?

By Gerard Braud

vitterIn the world of crisis communications many will offer the expert advice that recovery is about reputational damage and repair. In the current political race for governor in Louisiana this week, the outcome will be decided on the consideration of how long reputational damage lasts and if a request for forgiveness can make the damage go away.

You may wish to watch Louisiana for an interesting case study. U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is reported to have had a fondness for hiring prostitutes in both New Orleans and in Washington, D.C. His opponent, John Bel Edwards (D) has even alleged in a television commercial that Vitter missed a vote in the Senate that recognized fallen service men because Vitter was calling a prostitute. After Vitter was caught, he called a “good wife” style news conference with his wife by his side and did the typical act of contrition with his wife pledging her support as the family would move forward.

Is that enough for a voter to forgive an elected official who might represent them? Think about it, then add another layer. Vitter runs as a pro-family ultra conservative who preaches family values. Does this further damage his reputation when he says one thing and does the opposite?

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So the crisis communications and reputation management question here is how will voters respond? Will a significant number forgive him and vote for him based on his party?  Or will those in his party who say, “I forgive the guy, but I can’t vote for David Vitter because he made poor decisions and therefore isn’t fit to serve as Governor.” Will some in his own party call him out for being a hypocrite? Vitter’s opponent is already running commercials with people essentially saying that very thing.

Here is another consideration: Like Volkswagen, which created a crisis because of misdeeds, Vitter created his own crisis through his own intentional misdeeds. Does that make it harder for an audience or constituency to forgive?

A final consideration is this: When a person or company runs a commercial after a self-created crisis, does the commercial make you think more about the crisis? If you see a Volkswagen commercial, do you immediately think “scandal?” When a Louisiana voter sees a Vitter commercial, do they immediately think “cheater” or “hookers?” When Vitter makes robocalls with his wife and son on the recording, does it make a voter think, “But you cheated on your family?”

Keep your eyes on this news this Saturday to find out the final answer.

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