“I appreciate you doing your job,” Anthony Weiner told the press on Friday in front of his Manhattan apartment, the one he used to share with wife and political powerhouse Huma Abedin. News had recently broken that Abedin, vice chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign, had filed for divorce from her husband after Weiner pleaded guilty to sexting with a 15-year-old girl. This was only the latest and most egregious in a series of sex scandals that have come to light since “Weinergate” in 2011, have destroyed his political career, having led him to resign from Congress and later abandon a redemptive campaign for mayor of New York City.
Weiner admitted to the journalists seeking a statement that he didn’t “know what to say.” After all, he’d been here before — an embarrassing number of times. So too had they, having spent more than five years incrementally blowing the lid off Weiner’s tall tale of recovery, one sext at a time. And then there’s the rest of us, the American public, unable to tear our eyes away from the latest political trainwreck until another, more scintillating one grabs our attention — seemingly oblivious to the fact that these scandals really only distract us from the actual politics.
This dynamic is why, when Noah Dyer decided to run for governor of Arizona as a Democrat in 2018, the first-time politician included a section entitled “Scandals and Controversy” on his website. (Ironically, none of the information therein was yet a scandal or a controversy; in fact, no one even knew who the 36-year-old marketing executive with no political experience was, let alone what his dirty laundry might be.) Under five subheads — Sex, Religion, Personal Finances, Family and Privacy — Dyer reveals a litany of personal details that would be a career-ruining goldmine for any reporter covering the race. It’s the kind of information politicians pay to keep secret — or concoct fake identities like Carlos Danger (Weiner’s nomme de sext) to get away with.
On his own website, Dyer admits to being an advocate of open relationships, to having had sex with married women and in groups, to sexting and occasionally even recording video of himself doing the dirty. He owns up to old Facebook tirades that rail against religion, and invites constituents to check them out, as they haven’t been deleted. He reveals that he has $100,000 in student-loan debt, that he’s used cash advances to pay tens of thousands of dollars in child support and that he was once homeless. Dyer also discloses details, that in context of the others, seem quaint and irrelevant: He sometimes has minor feuds with his ex-wife, parents and extended relatives.
“Think about how much time political campaigns spend digging up dirt on their opponents,” the website offers as an explanation. “Noah is confident that all time spent this way is wasteful and unfortunate. It is his belief that the cleverly disclosed scandals that come out of the woodwork in the midst of campaigns mainly serve to divert and distract away from meaningful dialogue.”
It’s no shock that subsequently, Dyer went viral. His counterintuitive political strategy was covered by a national media that couldn’t believe someone would choose to uncover their own opposition research, much of which reveals a somewhat messy and progressive lifestyle that’s probably too much for Republican Arizona to handle.
In the end, Dyer might just be a passing news sensation, one who almost definitely won’t win in November of next year, but at MEL, we were curious if his viral moment wasn’t evidence of a cultural sea change — after all, we do have a pussy-grabber in the White House. Are we starting to accept that for anyone who grew up online, “skeletons in the closet” are inevitable? Does embracing honesty make scandal an avoidable part of the political process? And where do we draw the line between private and public information? Like, for instance, would Dyer ever release his actual sexts to the voting public?
For answers to all these questions and more, we recently spoke to Dyer for The MEL Conversation, our new series of in-depth interviews. The transcript of that discussion, which has been edited for length and clarity, is below.
Tell me why you decided to get into politics and what you were doing previously.
I’ve had politics in the back of my mind for some time. Here in Phoenix, we had Sheriff Joe for a long time, and every time he won, I thought, Someone’s gotta beat this guy; this can’t go on. Then, the night Trump won, I was sitting there like, What does this mean? What’s going on here? I had a lot of people in my life who voted for Trump that I knew weren’t proud racists. They were good people who did good things in the world. It made me realize that what people want more than anything else is honesty. My conclusion was that this wasn’t about the triumph of racism and misogyny; it was about people wanting honesty so badly that they would take a bad message and bad policy to get it.
I’m not anything like Trump in my behaviors or my policies, but the fact that people crave honesty so badly that they would elect him made me think that I could be honest and win — with better policy, too. The lowest office that’s coming available that tackles issues I’m interested in is that of governor. I didn’t have a passion for tackling hyper-local issues such as fixing potholes. But I did feel like Arizona is a joke on late-night TV because our governors make us appear to be anti-immigrant and anti-diversity. That’s something I wanted to change, so I decided to throw my name out there.
So Trump was your inspiration?
I don’t think Trump is an honest person per se, but when he shares his views, the people that follow him think they’re sincerely his. So while most of us recognize that it isn’t true when he says, “We have murderers and rapists coming over the border,” we also think that Trump believes it. In that sense, it’s honesty since he’s sharing his own convictions.
That’s different from preemptively revealing potential scandals and controversies from your personal life, though. Was that always something you were going to do if you got into politics, or was there an actual “aha” moment?
I knew that my life had been nontraditional. So while I didn’t know the exact form it was going to take, I knew I was going to do something in that regard. I didn’t want to go around, build up a political following, get people excited and then have something come out where people say, “You weren’t honest with me.” Instead, I wanted every person who gets on board with my campaign to know exactly who I am, what I believe in and what I’ve done. Honestly, I call that section “Scandals and Controversies,” but I don’t think it’s scandalous or controversial…
Because you’re saying them?
I remember when John Edwards’ secret love child came out in 2008. I thought to myself, “Is he delusional? Did he really think this would never come out?” The real problem with politicians like him, morals aside, is that they end up sabotaging the party if they become the nominee and something like that is later revealed.
Yeah. Politics is a game. Everyone has to take on a strategy, and the historical strategy for politicians has been to hide their own dirt as best they can — and alternatively, to dig up everything they can on their opponents. When everyone is playing that way, most people feel forced to play along. It’s certainly hurt or ruined some great political careers because they’ve been perceived as dishonest — Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, and like you said, John Edwards. Each of their political careers has been, at the very least, severely hampered for things that had nothing to do with actual politics but rather the public’s perception about their honesty. I wanted to challenge that perception.
Don’t you think, though, there’s a contingent of people who don’t want their politicians to be sexting or having affairs? That they want their leaders to be a pillar of society?
I don’t think people care about that; I honestly don’t. There may be some people who do, so I don’t want to say that literally no one cares about it. But as a populace, I think the vast majority of people don’t. If anything, our political discourse has made it seem like we care about them. So I do think it all comes back to honesty. What Spitzer was doing was illegal — I don’t mean to minimize that — but he was waging a war on the prostitution industry but he himself was seeing prostitutes. There was also [Larry Craig, the Republican Senator from Idaho] who was waging war on homosexuality, but who [was alleged to be attempting to meet men for sex in an airport bathroom]. It was the dishonesty and hypocrisy that did them in.
Because I’m a nontraditional person with open relationships and other things, I know that if you sit down on a first date and tell people, “This is who I am,” most people are okay with it. Whereas if you get into a relationship and later on down the road something comes out, they feel deceived and hurt by it.
When did you start getting into nonmonogamy?
Since my divorce. Not that I think you should report on the details of my divorce, but if you did, I was married for nearly six years and was faithful during that time. But I found that as much as I loved my wife — and I did love my wife; in fact, I couldn’t have loved her any more than I did — and as much as we had great sex and conversation, I still wanted to have sex with other people.
I was in my 20s, and I was discovering myself and also learning about the world. I went around to other people who’d been monogamous for decades, and I asked them, “Why are you monogamists?” Not one of them told me that it’s because they love their wife. Instead, they told me lots of other reasons — disease, jealousy or the social power of being able to say, “This is my wife of 20 years.”
Needless to say, none of these reasons were compelling to me. In fact, the only one that was compelling was child-rearing. So we actually did a trial separation. The purpose of which was to see what my relationship would be like with my kids if I wasn’t with their mom 24/7. A lot of people aren’t going to understand this, but I found that during my separation, my relationship with my kids improved, because the time I had with them was clearly their time. Whereas when I was home all the time, that line between my time and their time was blurred.
I don’t mean to say that everybody needs to get divorced to have clear time with their kids and themselves, because I don’t believe that. But in my experience, both my kids and I were more satisfied with our interactions during this trial separation. After that is when I started experimenting with open relationships.
The reality is, having talked to other people and having read Sex at Dawn, The Ethical Slut, What Do Women Want? and other books about male and female sexuality, no one thinks that love makes you monogamous. It’s the opposite. Everybody recognizes that just because you love somebody, it doesn’t mean you only want to have sex with them. And yet, we live in a society that says, “If you love somebody, you won’t have sex with other people.” That said, there are increasingly more and more people who are saying they’re not going to live that way, and they’re still able to find love, have families and do all the things they want to do.
Politicians in particular seem to struggle with monogamy.
It’s almost accepted that we’re nonmonogamous; we’re just not allowed to say it. Everyone knows that JFK was a huge womanizer, and we all know about Bill Clinton. Honestly, Obama is the only one who may not have been, but it’s almost like this thing that we don’t want to acknowledge.
I’m sure there have been some faithful men throughout history, but when you look at figures like Martin Luther King or Alexander Hamilton, for example; it’s clear that you can do amazing work for society and also have a roving eye. Do you think these two things are connected and the power these men possessed informed their desire and ability to step out on their marriages?
Certainly in my own case, I’ve been average in terms of income and probably low in terms of power, but I’ve been able to live this lifestyle. Nor do I feel like I’m pursuing power as a part of it. If you look at their careers, these folks have a gift for coming up with different ways of solving problems, and in this case, the problem is monogamy.
How does your ex-wife, friends and family members feel about you exposing such intimate details about your personal life?
The people in my life have all been congratulatory and excited. They all think I can do a good job and are hopeful that society will be accepting of me. But because of the historical political playbook, some of them are doubtful that the public will get behind it.
Especially in Arizona.
Yeah. It’s unfortunate that I keep bringing up Trump as an example, because I really don’t feel like he and I have much in common, but Arizona voted for Trump. And Trump had multiple affairs and talked about “pussy-grabbing” and whatever else. So if conservative people care about sex, they don’t care about it when they get to the ballot box, right? In other words, I think we have evidence that people vote more about policy than they do about a politician’s sex life.
Is there anything you wouldn’t reveal? Or anything you don’t want the public to know?
We live in a world where you’ve never heard a politician from any party stand up and say, “I believe in a complicated tax code. I believe that if you make more money than your neighbor, you should be able to send your kids to a better school. I believe that except for a few things I’m passionate about, I will trade my political influence for personal gain and promises for future power.” So, in an environment where what politicians say and what they deliver is very different, political candidates have to do things to show they’re honest. Plus, right now, the things we ask political candidates to use as proof of honesty aren’t that effective — stuff like making their tax returns public. I personally don’t think tax returns are a font of useful information. If anything, I think they can be misleading — you can have very dishonest people who have very attractive tax returns.
Therefore, my willingness to be transparent separates me from other politicians. It’s a sign. I’m telegraphing to people and saying, “Look, I’ll be honest.” In that regard, it’s working. People do believe that I’ll be honest and that I’m going to be a different kind of politician.
But where does the transparency stop? For example, would you ever release your own sexts or dick pics?
My thought would be, I don’t want to be personally responsible for releasing gratuitously salacious material. I’ve told people that I’ve sexted and recorded sex, but actually providing video of it doesn’t make it any more truthful.
It just seems to me that brought to its logical conclusion, radical honesty and transparency in politics could lead to a very insane place.
Occasionally, I have women still express an interest in me, and as a politician, I’ve sometimes wondered, What’s your motivation if I shared something with you? Would you try to get it on TMZ? I don’t go through life paranoid or whatever, so I’m not judging people in that regard. But I’ve accepted that if somebody I trust betrays that trust, that kind of thing is going to get out there.
I think everyone who sexts has that thought, to some extent, regardless of if they’re running for public office or not.
Being in politics, the stakes are higher, but if a dick pic were to come out, it wouldn’t be news because of the surprise — it would be news because of what it represented.
Right, there’s no “gotcha,” which is a huge factor in appeal of these news stories. The media, though, still loved that you did this. Did you expect such a big reaction from the press?
Absolutely not. What I honestly thought was that I’m a political nobody, and there’s probably not going to be a lot of incentive to report on me. That said, I thought if I shared this, it would show I’m different. But I still wrote in my initial press release, “I’m sharing this stuff, but I don’t think it’s news. I hope that you’ll report on the policies of my candidacy.” I meant that sincerely.
It didn’t pan out, though. The press exclusively reported on it. And not just the local press. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get international press about my sex life.
What do you think that says? Does that prove your point even more — that we’re definitely hungry for an authentic politician?
Yeah. If you look at my website now, the headlines and quotes — people are thinking I’m clearly different. And that’s the conclusion people should have, because I am going to be different. I didn’t think it would be so different that people in France and Australia would care. But it’s that different. And it’s been very gratifying. I get emails and calls from people across the country saying, “I’ve always thought I’ve had something to give politically, but I thought I couldn’t do it because I’ve been living an alternative lifestyle or I’ve made some mistakes in the past. You, though, have shown me how to do this, and now I’m going to try it.”
Maybe you’re the first in a new wave of politicians where secrecy isn’t going to be an option. Everyone sexts now, and so, for the governors of tomorrow, that’s just going to have to be there. Bill Clinton, for example, is very lucky he grew up without email, cell phones and wifi, because if he did, you can only imagine.
We are becoming a more and more open society with Facebook Live and everything else. What people think, do and have done throughout their lives is now going to be part of the record, and politicians are learning to adapt. And apparently I’m on the forefront of that adaptation.