"I've known Rob since he was 8," said Lear, who once lived next door to the Reiners on Fire Island in New York, and is a close friend of Reiner's father, Carl. "We spent a couple of summers within 30 feet of each other.... Now, Rob is one of the few people in town who really knows the ins and outs of the issues he talks about. He makes it his business to know. I marvel at that."
Reiner doesn't appear to be scared off by the public pummeling, said Mike Feldman, once a top advisor to former Vice President Al Gore, who has also watched Reiner in action for years.
"I'm sure there are a lot of people who would just say, 'Who needs this ... ?' and go back to making movies," the Washington, D.C.-based communications consultant said. "But my guess is that he is not going to be easily brushed aside. There is just too much at stake."
But veteran political consultant Rick Taylor said he believes Reiner is naive, and in over his head. "I think Mr. Reiner is figuring out that politics is not a nice business. I respect what he does, but I think he's been misguided."
And if he decides to stay in politics -- Reiner has said he would consider running for public office someday, maybe even for governor -- the controversy over the alleged misuse of tax funds "will certainly be used against him," Taylor said. "Maybe he would make a better candidate now because he has had this learning experience. But he will be more vulnerable."
Some days, especially lately, Reiner's wife, Michelle, wonders if it's all worth it.
"They take jabs at him that are very personal ... it bothers me," she said. "We've spent millions of our own money and countless hours on this. So when I hear people saying he misused political funds, or that he's fat ... I get angry.... It's like 'No good deed goes unpunished.' "
There's no doubt that Reiner is at a crossroads. Will he remain in politics when and if this all blows over? Or will he concentrate only on filmmaking?
"I'm not prepared to say at this point that I don't ever want to direct another movie again," Reiner said. "I'm certainly not prepared to say I don't want to see these issues through that I've taken on.
"It's a balancing act and I'll tell you, at some point something has got to give. But I'm not at that point yet. I'm not giving up."