early and awkward

How Savvy Jenny Sanford Sabotaged Ex-Husband Mark’s Political Comeback

 South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford pauses during a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill October 29, 2008 in Washington, DC. The hearing was focused on economic recovery and job creation through investment.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A couple of months ago, when I was reporting a feature on Mark Sanford’s political comeback and the ongoing soap opera between him and his ex-wife Jenny, one of his associates told me: “Clearly Jenny has the ability to determine whether Mark wins or loses this race.” It now seems clear that she’s chosen the latter.

Jenny insists that she did not leak to the Associated Press the court filings that revealed that Mark had trespassed at her home in early February. “Those documents the AP has are legit,” she told The Wall Street Journal. “They deal with a number of private domestic matters and it was my understanding they were to remain sealed along with our divorce documents. I did not choose to make this information public nor did I choose the timing of his last trespassing.” Which may be true. But Jenny’s not a dope. She’s a savvy political operator, and she had to have known that simply by filing those court documents in the middle of a campaign, there was a very good chance they would eventually leak.

Indeed, while Jenny has never come out and publicly opposed Mark’s congressional candidacy — choosing to remain officially neutral — she’s waged a brutally effective passive-aggressive campaign against it. Whether it was revealing to me that Mark had shamelessly asked her to manage his election bid; or telling the Washington Post that, until the night Mark’s fiancée showed up onstage at his victory party in April, one of her sons had never met the woman; or just generally making it known that she is furious that he’s running, Jenny has done a masterful job of keeping her ex-husband’s past (and not-so-past) transgressions in the news. She has seeded the ground with political land mines, stood back, and waited for Mark to step on one.

Now that he has, in the form of this trespassing news, Republicans are cutting bait, with the National Republican Congressional Committee deciding that it’s not going to spend any more money on Sanford’s behalf. Meanwhile, the conservative group Concerned Women for America has announced that it’s contemplating a write-in campaign on behalf of Jenny in the May 2 congressional race: “CWA’s staff is still checking the legalities but I gotta say,” its head told the Washington Post, “Congresswoman Jenny Sanford has a nice ring to it.” She’s certainly proven to be a better pol than her ex.

How Jenny Sanford Sabotaged Mark’s Comeback