What Will Happen to Mark Sanford?

What will happen to Mark Sanford?

There was nothing on television yesterday as riveting as Mark Sanford’s lengthy and awkward confession that yes, he’d been having an affair for some time.

What did we learn? Governor Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina, explained his recent disappearance, taking back his first confession (that he was “hiking on the Appalachian trail”) and admitting that he’d been engaged in an affair with a woman in Argentina. His sometimes tearful confession ran the gamut from spiritual talk to attempts at political concessions. Sanford ended the press conference saying he would be stepping down as chair of the Republican Governors Association, but not saying if he would resign as governor of South Carolina.

Mark Sanford, rumored to be a strong candidate for the Republican nomination in 2012, stood before a massive amount of reporters and cameras, and cried as he confessed to having an affair — you could almost hear the entire Republican party crying, as this is just the latest blow against what could be charitably described as a struggling Republican Party.

Gov. Mark Sanford caused quite a scene last week after he could not be located by his staff, his family, or even his close friends for a week. Sanford apologized to his wife and four sons. “I’ve been unfaithful to my wife,” he said in a news conference covered by just about every news agency with a camera. The 49 year old talked with remarkable sincerity about “God’s law”, the existence of moral absolutes, and the need to follow his heart. At one point, Sanford said he said he spent the last five days “crying in Argentina.”

Notably, his wife wasn’t by his side, as we’ve seen in other similar situations. In fact, none of his family was in attendence.

Sanford’s admission of cheating adds to a long list of troubles for the recently ousted Republican Party, and it couldn’t come at a worse time. The Republican part is looking to rebound after President Barack Obama won the White House with a large majority, and this victory gave Democrats the confidence they needed to practically take over the federal government. Sanford’s troubles are yet another distraction that the Republican party simply doesn’t need — this is a party that is seeking a turnaround at the federal level after huge losses in consecutive national elections. Does this mean the Republicans will have to face reality? The fact is that the Republican party lacks diversity, and their numbers are shrinking by the hour. In fact, the power of the Republican party lies entirely in the South, and even there the party lacks a solid leader worth his salt. Who will guide this party back to power?

Not Mark Sanford — at least one South Carolina lawmaker has called for his resignation, more are waiting in the wings.

Interestingly enough, Sanford voted in favor of three articles of impeachment against Democrat Bill Clinton as a congressman. You may remember that Clinton committed basically the same crime as Sanford, from the infidelity to the cover up. Why did Sanford want Clinton impeached? He said that America had a need for “moral legitimacy.”

While it is unclear what will happen to Sanford’s political career, it is easy to guess. A few very specific and slightly blue excerpts of e-mail exchanges between the governor and his mistress have been published online and in various print news magazines, ensuring this story won’t simply go away.

One e-mail from the governor read: “I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night’s light — but hey, that would be going into sexual details.”

What about the woman in question? Though we don’t know her last name, we know her name is Maria, and she is a prominent journalist in her native Argentina. She has two sons of her own and is married. According to Sanford, she has been a “dear, dear friend” for eight years. Sanford told reporters in his press conference that the relationship didn’t become “romantic” until a little over a year ago. Sanford admits to seeing her on three occasions since the romance began, and admits that his wife found out about the affair five months ago. He did not identify the woman other than to say she is from Argentina.

“What I did was wrong. Period,” said Sanford, all the while refusing to talk about his political future.

This is more than a moral issue. Because Sanford had to leave his post as governor to meet this woman, his critics say he not only committed an immoral act, but also neglected his duties as governor (and put the state at risk) by leaving the country without a formal transfer of power. Why is this a big deal? Had there been an emergency in his state, it is unclear how he could have been reached. Sanford revealed Wednesday morning that he went to Argentina for a seven-day trip last week. For three days after reporters learned of his absence and starting asking questions, his aides and staff at his office said he had gone “hiking on the Appalachian Trial”, a spot that Sanford loved “since he was a boy”, and a well-known hiking route that runs for about 2,100 miles along the eastern U.S.

Meanwhile, first lady Jenny Sanford told different stories to reporters. First, she told The Associated Press that she just plain did not know where her husband went for the Father’s Day weekend. She then said in a statement on Wednesday that she “begged” the governor to leave and stop speaking to her two weeks ago. The governor says he “wants to reconcile”, and his wife has made it clear that there is a chance they can resurrect their lengthy marriage — though it is difficult to understand how making “one last trip” to his mistress earned him a chance at reconciliation.

For his part, Governor Sanford says he never instructed his staff to cover up his affair. Instead, Sanford said he did plan on going to the Appalachian Trail but changed his mind at the last minute. He said it was his fault for never correcting his itinerary, and that he left for Argentina on a whim. “I let them down by creating a fiction with regard to where I was going,” Sanford said. “I said that was the original possibility. Again, this is my fault in … shrouding this larger trip.”

Jenny Sanford, a millionaire in her own right whose family fortune comes from the Skil Corporation (a power tool company) has always been a figure in her husband’s political career. In fact, Jenny Sanford ran his congressional campaigns and also was in charge of his first race for governor. South Carolina press call her “an almost daily fixture at senior staff meetings”. There are plenty of photographs showing Jenny elbows deep in South Carolina politics, making this blow smart just that much more.

Mark Sanford, who was first elected governor in 2002, is a former real estate developer. Sanford has more than a year remaining in his second term, but is restricted by term limits — in other words, he cannot run for governor again. Maybe this is why he admitted everything outright? Sanford served three terms as a congressman, and is most famous for making headlines when he attempted to turn down federal stimulus money for his state’s failing schools. His very visible battle against Obama and his fiscal policiy, combined with his “libertarian small-government politics” have won him praise from conservatives all over the country, making him a front runner for the 2012 Presidential election.

Sanford was not successful in turning down the much needed education money — a state court order required him to take the cash.

Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour would assume the duties as chairman vacated by Sanford. Sanford’s announcement couldn’t have come at a weirder time — just one day before Sanford’s press conference, another prominent Republican (Senator John Ensign of Nevada) was forced to apologize to his Senate colleagues after his revelation last week that he had an affair with a campaign staffer and thus was resigning from the Republican leadership. You would think that a party this concerned with taking back the country would keep their zippers up.