Kathleen Parker writes as though Sanford were toast

The State today ran this column by Kathleen Parker, which doesn’t come right out and say “Mark Sanford’s gonna lose,” but seems to assume that to be the case throughout. Here’s how the piece ends:

Sanford didn’t even have the decency to resign from office but rather finished his term and vanished for a couple of years only to re-emerge in pursuit of a fresh legacy. He recently won the Republican primary for an open congressional seat and faces Elizabeth Colbert Busch (sister of TV’s Stephen Colbert) in a special election May 7.

To many South Carolinians, especially women, Sanford’s candidacy is an embarrassment of Weiner­esque proportions. But if history is any guide, his candidacy is on life support. Not only did his former wife, Jenny Sanford, not stand by her man, she also wrote a book, went on TV and recently took him to court for trespassing. This in the wake of his fiancee showing up at his primary victory party and appearing onstage with him and two of his sons, one of whom had not previously met his future stepmother.

Sanford’s lack of empathy for his family, not to mention his impeachable judgment, should disqualify him from further public service, an opinion apparently shared by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which recently withdrew support for his candidacy.

Where the wife goes, so go the people…

An interesting detail to note is that this piece is several days old. It’s dated for April 19, which was three days before the PPP poll showed Elizabeth Colbert Busch leading by 9 points. So Kathleen was just sort of going on gut on this — assuming that her theory, that if the wife doesn’t forgive the voters won’t, would apply.

I think it’s premature to count Mark Sanford out. That district is so Republican, and he won the crowded GOP primary. The same people who voted for him all those times before seem poised to do it again. Relying on those voters not to show up on election day seems like a thin premise.

I now think he may lose. I’d very much like to see him lose, because it would go a long way toward bolstering my faith in democracy in South Carolina, which frankly has been repeatedly bruised over the last few years. It would show that voters in that district have some sense.

But I’m not counting on it, not on the basis of information currently available to me.

And I don’t think you can predict it based on any generalizations about sex scandals elsewhere in the country. National media (and I know Kathleen isn’t like other national media, since she lives in SC, but the audience she’s writing for is national) keep making the mistake of lumping Sanford in with Weiner and others, as though there were a connection. When there isn’t.

This is related to another fallacy that national media treat as gospel — that you can make generalizations about individual congressional elections based on party. As though a Democratic or Republican victory at one end of the country indicates a trend that will bear out at the other end of the country. Which utterly ignores the fact that every candidate is different, and is running under different conditions, in a different venue with different voters.

And just as with Tolstoy’s observation that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” every sex scandal is different. And one involving Mark Sanford is necessarily more different than others, because Mark Sanford is utterly unlike any politician I’ve ever encountered in my long career. The odd ways that he relates, or doesn’t relate, to other human beings (including, and perhaps especially, member of his own party) is just unique. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Therefore the psychology of what motivates people to vote for him is also unique. His political appeal is a strange animal, hard to understand and harder to predict.

So I would not dismiss him yet, as much as I may want to. But to do so, I’d have to be more certain that I am that voters who show up on May 7 in that district will act sensibly, rather than embarrass our state. And there are just too many quirky variables to predict with confidence.

17 thoughts on “Kathleen Parker writes as though Sanford were toast

  1. bud

    It’s premature to count Sanford out but I will go ahead and make Ms. Colbert-Busch the favorite. All the anecdotal evidence now suggests the Super Bowl incident has hurt Sanford. Not sure why. Perhaps it’s just the last straw that finally broke the camels back. Having said that I’d only give the Democrat a lean. Just too much red in that district.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    You mean the one with the photo to which the cutline says, “Mark Sanford debates a cutout of U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to call out 1st Congressional District opponent Elizabeth Colbert Busch for not debating him,” when the picture shows that the image of Pelosi is most definitely NOT a “cutout”?


    Anyway, this is a good test. Will the voters in the 1st District decide they’ve had enough of Sanford’s stupid stunts, or will they go along with him?

    Every time I turn around, Sanford seems to sink a little lower. Now he’s dropped to the level of stealing from Nikki Haley’s playbook — running against Nancy Pelosi instead of against his opponent, just as Nikki ran against Barack Obama in 2010.

    What an insult to the intelligence of voters — unless, of course, they demonstrate that they really are that dumb. Which is what Sanford is betting on.

  3. susanincola

    From where I sit, I’m still feeling like Sanford’s gonna win. The Republicans would have to just not show up, and that seems like a stretch to me.

    1. bud

      I think many Republican women will indeed not show up. But will it be enough? I see a nail-bitter coming.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    It’s particularly bizarre that Sanford would choose MUSC as his backdrop, given his deep hostility to the very idea of public research universities…

    Never mind the irony that, according to the story, behind him was MUSC’s Dr. James Colbert Education Center and Library, named for his opponent’s father.

    1. bud

      Seriously, Sanford chose a building named after Ms. Colbert-Busch father? You just can’t make this stuff up. Sadly this campaign will end soon and I’ll have to find another form of amusement. Maybe George W. can run for something.

  5. Kelly

    Mark Sanford could write a book on excuses: why I can’t, won’t, don’t, wasn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t, didn’t, etc. Remember Dewey’s unexpected defeat by Truman in 1948, “We were too isolated with other reporters; and we, too, were far too impressed by the tidy statistics of the poll.” -James Reston

  6. Silence

    I think that a lot of female Republicans won’t vote for Sanford – for all the reasons that you’d expect. It’ll be interesting to see how this election plays out, but Sanford has certainly done everything he can do (thus far) to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  7. bud

    And just as with Tolstoy’s observation that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” every sex scandal is different.

    We have a long history of sex scandals in this country and they have widely different impacts. Bill Clinton is a prime example. Clinton survived and even thrived because the public saw him as a victim of a Republican witch hunt. Others like David Vitter in LA likewise didn’t suffer much of any consequences for his dalliances with prostitutes, even though he was a champion of “family values”.

    Of course the Monkey Business sank Gary Hart. “Wide Stance” pretty much made a mockery of Larry Craig. And of course Anthony Weiner got caught with his pants down and had to resign.

    So who knows how all Sanford’s nuttiness will play out. I guess it depends on whether the voters buy his “victim” status. Or at least enough staunch Republican voters like those who supported Newt Gingrich after his attack on the media during an SC primary debate. Right now it seems like the super bowl thing is, strangely, an important development.

  8. Juan Caruso

    Has columnist Parker turned over a new leaf? In my opinion, she is simply trying to maintain her relevance in a campaign without at least one attorney she would otherwise support automatically.

    I consider Parker no more of a consevative than commenter Bud. If either of the two even knows a ‘Republican’ woman these days it would surprise me. I would be hard pressed to name one of those myself these days.

    The contest is hardly begun yet, much less done.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Given where she lives and the social circles in which she moves, it would be very difficult for Kathleen not to know a LOT of Republican women.

      As for “liberal” or “conservative,” she doesn’t like to be called either, if I recall correctly, any more than I do.

      People call her “conservative,” but she prefers to call herself a grownup. Which I think is accurate in her case…

      1. Silence

        Is she over 29? Because Kathryn F. declared this week that 29 year old attorneys aren’t grown-ups yet.

  9. Ralph Hightower

    Sanford will probably make a comeback when Newt Gingrich is on his fifth or sixth wife.

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