Standing by her man: The takedown of Huma Abedin

New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin attend a news conference in New York, July 23, 2013. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters)
New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin attend a news conference in New York, July 23, 2013.

As embattled New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner forges ahead and endures the fallout from his ever-mounting sexting scandals, another member of his team is enduring a backlash of her own: Weiner’s wife.

Huma Abedin fiercely defended her husband. At a press conference earlier this week, the 36-year-old stood by Weiner’s side and read from prepared remarks after admitting she was was “a little nervous.”

“Anthony has made some horrible mistakes both before he resigned from Congress and after, but I do really strongly believe that is between us and our marriage,” she said, later adding, “I love him, I’ve forgiven him, I believe in him.”

The deluge of criticism came quickly. Several critics couldn’t seem to believe that Abedin — a highly accomplished aide to Hillary Clinton — would stick with Weiner, who has admitted to sexting with at least three women after he resigned in disgrace from Congress in 2011. The New York Post on Thursday ran a cover photo of Abedin labeling her “Senora Danger,” a spoof on the Carlos Danger avatar Weiner created to engage in racy chats. The bold headline posed a question to Abedin: “What’s wrong with you?”

Fox News guest Michael Graham said Abedin “should be ashamed” of herself, adding she’s “worse” than Weiner for standing beside him.

msnbc legal analyst Lisa Bloom wrote in a biting opinion piece for that while Abedin has “the right to make any decisions she wants about her life,” it doesn’t mean the rest of us have to “stand silently by and condone it.” She added, “Some of us are trying to raise our girls to be more than voiceless partners sucking up their pride as their husbands trample over their dignity.”

So why is Abedin doing it, and at what cost?

“The train has already left the station,” Hunter College political science professor Jamie Chandler told msnbc, arguing the couple has become so invested (publicly) in rehabilitating their relationship and the campaign that it’s now “difficult to remove herself from the equation.”

The risk Abedin runs, Chandler said, is far greater than the reward. The reward only comes if Weiner wins, which he said is looking more and more unlikely. “She’s putting her image at risk,” he said.

After all, Abedin, who began working for Clinton as a White House intern in 1996 and eventually became her traveling chief of staff in 2008 and top aide when she became secretary of state, put herself politically on the line for her husband. She's been actively campaigning for Weiner, using her powerful political connections to raise money for her husband's comeback.

In a July 2 e-mail , the famously private Abedin told potential donors: "You probably never thought you’d receive an email like this from me, and I never imagined I would be sending a note to friends about a mayor’s race,” she said. “I’ve spent most of my adult life working to help the people and causes I believe in, though I have always tried to remain behind the scenes. But, as Anthony begins this journey and puts his all into his race for mayor of New York City, I want to tell you how excited I am to support his campaign.”

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Thursday showed support for Weiner is in freefall among registered Dems. In June, Weiner held a 52% favorability rating, compared to 30% on Wednesday. The percentage of Democrats saying they had an unfavorable view of the candidate increased from 26% to 55%.

Abedin’s defense of her husband has drawn corollaries to her former boss, Hillary Clinton, and when the former first lady stuck by her husband’s side during accusations of infidelity. The Clintons dealt with such revelations several times in the '90s (Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky), and Mrs. Clinton was once an exceptionally polarizing figure. Of course, today that seems like a distant memory.

“You know, I’m not sitting here—some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” Clinton told 60 Minutes in 1992. “I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck, don’t vote for him.”

Not all the feelings toward Abedin’s defense of her spouse was met with anger, but rather, pity. Veteran New York Congressman Charles Rangel told msnbc he can’t “recall seeing a wife looking and feeling so sad and embarrassed because Huma is a very private person, a very delicate, sophisticated person,” adding in “all the years that I’ve known her, putting her into this political situation, as bright, as intelligent as she is, is very awkward….It’s really a sad day.”

Similarly, Jenny Sanford, the ex-wife of Rep. Mark Sanford –who cheated on her while he was governor of South Carolina-- said, “I’ve been through the painful reality of marriage with a troubled individual and having it in the press. My heart goes out to her.”

Democratic political strategist Peter Fenn called Abedin’s defense of Weiner “extraordinarily puzzling” given her reputation as being smart and capable. “We all have our blindspots,” he told msnbc. “But this just doesn’t seem to be understandable. I just don’t understand why she’s continuing to do this.”