Over the weekend, as Mark Sanford’s mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, was opening up about her affair, both the New York Times and Washington Post turned their attention to the home front, examining just how screwed the South Carolina governor is now that he’s been kicked out by his wife. Jenny Sanford, it turns out, is not only a cool customer, but she’s also apparently a smart, tough cookie who bakes cookies, a dichotomy other First Ladies (like Hillary Clinton, famously) would have argued was not possible. Jenny has kept her wits about her in the week since the affair broke, writing up a statement for herself and handing it out to reporters camped out on her lawn. She’s also given an interview to the AP, during which she said she’s given up worrying about the political future for her husband — a man whose name has been frequently mentioned for the 2012 presidential election. “His career is not a concern of mine,” Jenny Sanford told reporters camped at the end of her driveway as she left with her boys for a boat ride the other day. “He’s going to have to worry about that. I’m worried about my family and the character of my children,” she said.
Mark Sanford has enough political trouble for engaging in the affair to begin with. Critics are complaining that his behavior should merit a resignation from the governorship, if not for the affair, for the use of taxpayer funds to travel to Argentina, or the fact that he disappeared for five days without revealing his whereabouts even to his staff. If he had any hope for a strategy to recover from this, it would likely have come from the mind that crafted his first congressional run and two gubernatorial bids: that of Jenny Sanford, his wife and brilliant campaign manager. A Georgetown-educated M&A expert who gave up her job at Lazard Freres to raise a family with Sanford, Jenny was always in charge of his political future. And now, without her, most friends say his clock is punched. “He would have never won either of his governor’s races without her — no way,” said a former Sanford spokesman. “She ran the show. He pointed the direction he wanted to go, and she was the bulldozer that cleared the path and got him there.” The “Old Testament woman with a 170 IQ” is turning her attentions elsewhere, departing the state to vacation with her kids and leaving her estranged husband to deal with the mess he created on his own.
“I think Jenny has not had these types of ambitions,” said longtime friend Cindy Mosteller. “But I think every woman in South Carolina would vote for Jenny Sanford for governor right now.” A tough, smart, values-oriented woman who knows what she’s talking about, and is recovering from a collapse in trust and idealism? Sounds like a symbol the Republican Party could really get behind.