South Carolina GOP: From The Appalacian Trail to “Inappropriate Physical Relationship”

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Does anyone know what an “inappropriate physical relationship” even means? Does it matter, given the carnival nuttiness of the South Carolina GOP? First, let’s back up.

Mark Sanford, the sitting GOP governor, fell in love with someone who was not his wife, told his staff he was going backpacking, then flew secretly to Argentina and cried a lot. He came back home, his wife left him, and he has been trying to keep the flame alive with his Argentinian love by holding hands with her in Florida. Meanwhile, Nikki Haley, a Palin-backed conservative candidate, looks to have an inside track on getting elected the next governor of South Carolina.

But that’s not all. Today, a political blogger in South Carolina, Will Folks, wrote a blog post, which is either a terribly timed April Fool’s joke, a slanderous traffic play or one of the oddest admissions of infidelity in American political history. Folks writes that he has become the primary target of an anonymous group “that will apparently stop at nothing to destroy the one S.C. gubernatorial candidate who, in my opinion, would most consistently advance the ideals I believe in”–that is Nikki Haley. So in order to protect Haley and himself he admits the following:

The truth in this case is what it is.  Several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki. That’s it.

The State has photos of the two parties (separately) here. Ben Smith uncovers (or is emailed) evidence that Folks worked for Haley a bit in 2008. Haley, for her part, says there is no truth to the blog post, in a statement:

I have been 100% faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage.  This claim against me is categorically and totally false. It is sad, but not surprising, that this disgraceful smear has taken form less than a week removed from the release of a poll showing our campaign with a significant lead.  It is quite simply South Carolina politics at its worst. These attacks – and those sure to follow – are an effort at distraction, but I will keep my focus on what matters, and that is delivering South Carolina’s government back to our people.  That’s a fight I have fought for the last five years.  That’s why I entered this race for Governor.  And that’s what I will continue to do, despite any outrageous and false claims that are thrown at me.

The June 8 primary is just two weeks away. Republican politics in South Carolina is famously fierce and underhanded. “We tried to explain to the folks in Boston early on that it’s a little different here,” I was told in 2007 by Terry Sullivan, a veteran political operative who is running former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in the Palmetto State. “It’s kind of a knife fight.” Indeed.

For more on the history of South Carolina Republican politics see my Salon story from 2007.