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.