Now that we’ve learned more intimate details than we really ever wanted to know about South Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s affair with an Argentine woman (she has great tan lines, apparently, and is also about to be outed), the question is what comes next. Today Sanford claimed he will not resign as governor, though calls for him to do so may grow loud soon enough. The state legislature could also simply impeach him. It’s hard to say where this will all lead. Plenty of politicians have been forced out of office or had their political careers destroyed by affairs, while others have clung on against the odds. It plays out on a case-by-case basis, dependent on the person, the specifics of the affairs, and the political climate. Here are the factors that could sink Sanford, and those that could save him.
So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye:
Hypocrisy: By some strange coincidence, almost every Republican who gets caught having an affair once lambasted President Clinton for doing the same thing. Sanford is no different. “I think it would be much better for the country and for him personally [to resign],” he said back in the day, also referring to Clinton as a “rascal.” Oh, and about the lying, which, clearly, Sanford had done until he came clean yesterday: “The issue of lying is probably the biggest harm, if you will, to the system of Democratic government, representative government, because it undermines trust,” he told CNN about Clinton. “And if you undermine trust in our system, you undermine everything.” Rachel Maddow spent a whole six minutes last night chronicling Sanford’s moral hypocrisy. By his own terms, Sanford should go.
Abuse of Power: Adultery may be considered a personal issue, but it often has a way of becoming a public concern, like when it wastes taxpayers’ money and resources. It’s being reported that Sanford traveled to Argentina three times on the taxpayers’ dime, with one journey occurring
in 2002 after Sanford met his lover, according to his own timeline. Update: Sanford has agreed to pay back South Carolina for a trip to South Carolina last year. It probably won’t help things much.
Lost Confidence: Governor Sanford’s personal turmoil directly endangered the welfare of the state. When he disappeared to write/hike/naked-hike/screw without telling anyone, nobody knew who was in charge. As many politicians in his own state have noted, that would have made it difficult to respond to an unforeseen event like a hurricane or a terrorist attack.
He Shall Overcome:
Remorse: In Sanford’s case, excessive remorse. During his press conference yesterday, Sanford directly apologized to his sons, his wife, his staff, “anybody who lives in South Carolina,” good friends including Tom Davis, his in-laws, and “people of faith across South Carolina, or for that matter, across the nation.” He also announced plans to go “one by one and town by town to talk to a lot of old friends across this state” and ask “for their forgiveness.” The people of South Carolina might forgive him just to get him off their backs.
Legality: As far as we know, Sanford’s affair involved consensual sex with a non-prostitute of legal age. Unless some damning evidence turns up about that questionable taxpayer-funded trip to Argentina, or some other financial indiscretions, for now, it seems Sanford didn’t break any laws.
His Better Half: South Carolina’s First Lady, Jenny Sanford, seems willing to stick it out with her wandering husband. “I believe enduring love is primarily a commitment and an act of will, and for a marriage to be successful, that commitment must be reciprocal. I believe Mark has earned a chance to resurrect our marriage,” she said in a statement. Hey, if even she’ll give him a second chance, maybe everyone else should, too.
Good Timing: Sanford’s affair comes in a climate where big, truly important issues may allow him to slip out of the national spotlight in the near future. Iran, North Korea, Middle East peace, health care, the economy — who really has time to care about another politician’s affair?