After hearing Mark Sanford’s name mentioned first (although in a dismissive way) among possible running mates for McCain on NPR Thursday morning, I proposed to my colleagues that we should say the following in today’s paper. I had said it in passing in a column, and had elaborated on the blog, but since the newspaper backed McCain for the nomination, it seemed incumbent upon us as a board to try to warn him off a bit more formally. Here’s today’s editorial:
McCain should look elsewhere for running mate
WE TAKE GREAT satisfaction, and pride, in the knowledge that South Carolina’s choice for the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain, has now secured his place on the November ballot.
As we said in our endorsement before the Jan. 19 South Carolina primary, Sen. McCain stood out clearly among his GOP rivals. His experience, integrity, independence of mind and courage — physical, moral and political — put him in a class by himself. South Carolina did the nation a great favor when it gave Sen. McCain the momentum he needed at a critical moment. It did another one in expressing its enthusiastic preference for Sen. Barack Obama, whom this newspaper also endorsed.
Unfortunately, the momentum Sen. Obama picked up here momentarily stalled Tuesday night, leaving the Democratic contest unsettled. But as the Democrats head to Pennsylvania, the Republican nominee has the leisure to face another challenge: choosing a running mate.
South Carolina can do Sen. McCain — and, more importantly, the nation — another favor. We can point out in no uncertain terms that Gov. Mark Sanford would be a disastrous choice.
The political reasons why this is so are painfully obvious. He would bring nothing to the ticket beyond his relative youth, which is not that rare a commodity. He would not bring the disgruntled cultural conservatives who voted for Mike Huckabee in recent weeks. Mr. Sanford’s appeal is confined to the more extreme economic libertarians who despise Gov. Huckabee. Our governor is constantly at odds with the sort of Republicans who are more typical of the national base. And if the GOP ticket can’t win South Carolina without a South Carolinian on the ballot, it might as well quit now.
But while those might be concerns for Sen. McCain, they are not ours. We are alarmed at even the suggestion that Mark Sanford might be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. This nation desperately needs effective, engaged, committed leadership on a range of critical fronts, from Baghdad to Wall Street and at many points between. Mark Sanford approaches elective office with the detachment of a dilettante, as though it simply does not matter whether anything is accomplished. His six years in Congress are remembered for a futon and a voting record replete with empty, ideological gestures. As governor, he has proven himself utterly unable — or perhaps worse, unwilling — to lead even within his own majority party. He is easily the most politically isolated governor we can recall. He is startlingly content to toss out marginal ideas and move on, unruffled by the fact that most of his seeds fall on rocky ground.
Fortunately, a universe of better options is available to Sen. McCain. If he wants a Southern governor who appeals to the missing portions of his base, Gov. Huckabee stands before him. If he wants someone to make up for his relative weakness on the economy, Mitt Romney is in the wings. If he’s mainly concerned with the political imperative to deliver a critical state, Florida’s Charlie Crist was there for him when it counted (Mark Sanford finally, on Thursday, endorsed him after the nomination was secured).
You’ve come too far to blow it now, Sen. McCain. We wouldn’t steer you wrong on this. Please, look elsewhere for your running mate.