John Edwards, David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig and John Ensign walk into a bar …

Have we entered some kind of time warp?

A United States senator holds a blubbering news conference back home admitting to an affair and apologizing to his wife on national television.

Former Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) $90,000 freeze-dried dollars have finally thawed out in time for a court appearance in Alexandria, Va.

And the Democrat-run House Rules Committee is back to the days of holding dead-of-night emergency meetings to change the rules when democracy on the House floor starts to get out of control. Might not be the most original thought in the world, but the more things change — et cetera, et cetera.

What happens in Vegas

Apparently, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. Nevada Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) center-stage “news conference” in glitzy Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon started out with a bit of understatement when the junior senator and rising GOP star stood before the lights and cameras and sheepishly admitted to “something that I was involved in last year.”

The remorseful Ensign proceeded to read a brief statement of apology (“especially to my wife”), then immediately exited the room without taking any questions. Where’s a nice David Copperfield-style trapdoor when you really need one?

Time will tell if the smart and likable Ensign is able to bounce back from this mess, but he does get major points for not dragging his aggrieved wife in front of the cameras for that confessional “Stand by Your Man” moment.

The way things are going, it seems like that ought to be part of the original oath for high political office. Repeat after me: “And — furthermore — if — while in office — my hormones go crazy — and I eventually have to confess to an affair — I promise to never — ever — make my wife stand there with me. So help me God.” Just a thought.

Ensign’s future?

This one’s a little trickier because Ensign’s affair was with a Senate staffer — a subordinate — as opposed to coughing up some stimulus cash for a hooker at the Mayflower. Because of his straightforward public confession, I have no trouble believing that the fine folks of Nevada might cut Ensign some slack and allow him a little time and space to work himself out of the doghouse, but this all depends on whether there’s any more to the story. The cross-reference for this: the all-important “Drip … drip … drip” file. Case in point: Ensign gave up his GOP leadership position as chairman of the Policy Committee on Wednesday. So — stay tuned.

The Ensign affair, if it’s anything like the others that have gone before, will no doubt generate a few more headlines before the curtain comes down. It certainly has already re-ignited a chattering-class discussion on just what effect the Tuesday admission might have on his political future.

No matter how this all turns out, Ensign supporters must be in a complete state of shock just about now. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that their rising star was visiting the early-presidential primary state of Iowa in order to generate some early buzz within GOP political circles for 2012? Note to senator: “Mission accomplished, sir!”

Just when they thought we were beginning to forget …

Although the Ensign story caught official Washington off guard, it quickly rekindled some old flames (no pun intended) of other high-profile dalliances involving political performance-art stars like David VitterDavid Bruce VitterRed-state governor races put both parties on edge Louisiana Republicans score big legislative wins Trump calls on Republicans to vote out Democratic Louisiana governor amid GOP infighting MORE, John Edwards, Larry Craig and Eliot Spitzer.

Sen. Vitter (R-La.), after confessing in 2007 to “a very serious sin” with a prostitute, remains in the Senate but, from my vantage point, still seems marginalized on the “serious player” scale. Like former Idaho GOP Sen. Craig (Minneapolis airport stall caper, in case you forgot), the name Vitter, two years after the fact, fair or not, remains a punch line.

The verdict is still out on whether former North Carolina Democratic Sen. and presidential candidate Edwards or ex-New York Gov. Spitzer (D) get another act on the stage after their own high-profile political flameouts. I say aye for Spitzer and nay for Edwards — just don’t ask me how or why.

And finally …

Edwards crossed into the irreversible Gary Hart Red Zone of Recklessness by actually conducting his affair while he was trying to win the presidential nomination. A horrible misjudgment and betrayal, of course, but would anyone get Palin/Letterman mad at me if I suggested some extra credit points were in order for Edwards for his time-management prowess in the midst of a hectic campaign schedule? Always look on the bright side of life, as they say …

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