Mark Sanford: No Longer Missing. Will He Be Missed?

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The sagacious Don Fowler Sr.–former chairman of both the South Carolina and national Democratic parties–notes that the old joke used to be that when Democrats got into trouble, it was over sex; when Republicans did, it was over money. That’s the reason, the punchline went, that there were so many more Democrats than Republicans. But with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s tearful confession of marital infidelity coming on the heels of Nevada Senator John Ensign’s, and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in the soup for allegedly trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat, “I think this is getting to be reversed these days,” Fowler told me.

Sanford’s admission is nonetheless a shock to the South Carolina political establishment. Sure, his disappearance was weird–but then, Sanford had always been considered a quirky kind of guy. The one place where there had never been so much question about the Governor was in the area of his personal life. His picture-perfect family–a smart, pretty wife and four adorable sons–had been very much a part of his image. And wife Jenny, granddaugher of the founder of power toolmaker Skil Corporation, had been a savvy political force in her own right, having managed her husband’s campaigns. In 2007, she published a book, authored by their sons, on the history of the Governor’s official residence in Columbia. The title–in retrospect, an ironic one–was “Mischief in the Mansion.”

So what does this mean for Sanford’s future? Re-elected in 2006, he was unable under state law to run again for Governor, and there were plenty of signs that he was laying the groundwork to make a bid for higher office. Sanford’s frequent television appearances, his chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association and his resistance to accepting $787 billion in stimulus funding were widely seen as rightward positioning for a possible presidential bid in 2012. Now, it is hard to imagine that happening.

Indeed, the GOP is doing its best to just put Mark Sanford behind it. CNN is already reporting that Mississippi’s Haley Barbour will take the helm of the RGA.

Which means that this story also begins to move on, back into the personal realm, with one more statement from the Governor’s office:

“First and foremost, I apologize to my wife and my four boys. I have made decisions that have hurt and will continue to hurt them, and for that I’m sincerely sorry. Jenny has stood by me through campaign after campaign, through hard time after hard time, and neither she nor the boys deserve this. Please offer them your prayers.

“I apologize to my staff. I misled them about my whereabouts, and as a result the people of South Carolina believed something that wasn’t true. I want to make absolutely clear that over the past two days at no time did anyone on my staff intentionally relay false information to other state officials or the public at large. What they’ve said over the past two days they believed to be true, and I’m sorry to them for putting them in this position.

“I apologize to the people of South Carolina. There are many people out there right now who are hurt, angry and disappointed with me, and rightfully so. Over the time that I have left in office, I’m going to devote my energy to building back the trust the people of this state have placed in me.

“I ask for your forgiveness, and your prayers for everyone who I’ve hurt,” Sanford said.