Sanford’s whereabouts had been unknown since Thursday, and the mystery surrounding his absence fueled speculation about where he had been and who’s in charge in his absence. His emergence Wednesday ended the mystery.
Sanford, in a brief interview with The State in the nation’s busiest airport, said he decided at the last minute to go to the South American country to recharge after a difficult legislative session in which he battled with lawmakers over how to spend federal stimulus money.
Sanford said he had considered hiking on the Appalachian Trail, an activity he said he has enjoyed since he was a high school student.
"But I said ‘no’ I wanted to do something exotic," Sanford said "… It’s a great city."
South Carolina’s wandering governor, Mark Sanford, said today he had an affair with an Argentine woman and that was why he disappeared without telling anyone he went to South America.
"The bottom line is this: I’ve been unfaithful to my wife," he said. "I’ve developed a relationship with a dear dear friend from Argentina."
Speaking at a nationally televised news conference, Sanford apologized to his wife, his four boys, his family and the people of South Carolina for his disappearance and for leaving his staff and family to make up excuses for his absence. Sanford’s staff had insisted at one point that he was off hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
"There are moral absolutes," said Sanford, one of a cast of possible GOP presidential aspirants.
The announcement was the latest development in the bizarre case of Sanford’s disappearance on June 18. It was unclear whether Sanford’s comments would placate his critics, who have been up in arms.
In a sense, ya can almost feel for the guy. When he stepped off that plane and was met by a reporter, Mark Sanford probably had one of the moments for which the phrase "Oh Shit Moment" was coined, because the realization of how completely, utterly, and irredeemably fucked you are in that moment has a tendency to turn one’s bowels to water.
Personally, you wonder why the hell you let yourself get into this situation and how in the world could you have been so stupid as to think it had the remotest chance of ending well. Publicly, people wonder how you could have been so stupid as to think you could get away with it.
In Sanford’s case, as the story got stranger, those questions were simply reduced to "What the fuck?"
But then he explained, in way more detail than most people wanted to know.
And for way longer than anyone wanted to listen. The rest of the press conference was like window into insanity. It just went on and on. I kept asking why nobody stopped him. Did his communications staff resign en masse?
There was plenty that didn’t sound right about this story.
First, we need to be clear on the facts — not the media speculation:
- Sanford did tell his staff and family where he was going.
- Because he was traveling without a security detail, it was in his best interests that no one knew he was gone.
- His political enemies — Republicans at that — ginned up the media story.
- When confronted by a pestering media, things went downhill.
- Again though, at all times there was no doubt that Sanford’s staff and family knew where he was.
Now, here is all you need to know about this whole entire story — the reaction from the erstwhile Republicans angry at Sanford for not being a fiscal squish and from the media all go back to their core belief that without Sanford manning the barricades of government at all times, the government will collapse and people will starve, die, and forget how to read and write.
But that did not happen. Life in South Carolina went on. The world did not end. Government did not go off the rails. That the media and politicians would react as they did says more about their world view than anything else.
It is refreshing that Mark Sanford is secure enough in himself and the people of South Carolina that he does not view himself as an indispensable man.
No, he viewed himself as an invulnerable man, apparently.
Fortunately, Fox News was there when the truth finally came out.
Here’s my prediction. In the weeks to come, if they talk about it at all, the Fox News spin will go something like this:
It’s the fault of the Democrats and the liberal media — who hounded this poor, flawed man of faith in the midst of this painful personal struggle. It’s a shame that they would take advantage of a man’s personal weakness for their personal gain, when he and his family should have been allowed to handle this as a private matter.
Oh, and by the way his behavior is no reflection on his party or his beliefs, as it would have been if he were a Democrat.
Seriously, though. The questions here were pretty obvious.
This latest turn in what can now only be described as a bizarre story creates far more questions than it answers. Among them:
- Why didn’t Sanford check in with anyone during the five days he was "off the grid"? The Fix has been to Buenos Aires — the Paris of South America — and can attest to the fact that there are shops with e-mail terminals and international phones on nearly every corner. Why would Sanford not, at least, call his wife (and four boys) on Father’s Day to let them know his whereabouts — especially given that he was a nine-hour plane ride (or more) from home?
- Why did Sanford’s staff insist on Monday that they knew where he was and had been in contact with him? A source within the South Carolina government said Monday that no one on Sanford’s staff had spoken to the governor since last Thursday and they did not know where he was, and yet everything that came out of Sanford’s office after the initial hubbub seemed to suggest that all was well. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer accused Sanford’s staff of misleading him regarding the governor’s location on Monday, a claim that now seems to be right.
- What did Sanford’s office tell people like state Sen. Greg Ryberg and South Carolina Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom that convinced that duo to put out statements yesterday condemning the media coverage of the event as making much ado about nothing? And, how much blowback is there from Sanford defenders who now have, to put it nicely, egg on their face?
These are just a few of the questions that Sanford now must answer in the coming days. The fact that he disappeared for six days made for an interesting — and somewhat odd — story. The fact that — whether willfully or accidentally — Sanford’s staff misled the public about his whereabouts is a major problem for a candidate considered almost certain to run for president in 2012.
More importantly, Sanford says his wife knew about the affair. Is that why he was standing up there by himself?
The only commendable thing Sanford has done lately was to stand before the television cameras by himself as he admitted that his mysterious five-day absence was in fact a trip to Argentina — to see the woman with whom he has been having an extramarital affair for the past year.
He didn’t follow the lead of Larry Craig, Eliot Spitzer and all the others who somehow induced their aggrieved wives to literally stand by their men. That always seemed to be the ultimate betrayal, and I wondered why on earth those women would go along with the act. Humiliation is bad enough when it’s endured in private. It must be excruciating when it’s made into public display — for the benefit of the offending husband’s career.
Enough about Sanford’s wife Jenny and their children, who did nothing to deserve all this. As for Sanford, if ever he deserved to be considered a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, he’s out of the picture now. For good. As he said today: “End of story.”
In most of these situations, the wife is part of the tableau; "Standing by her man," etc. Mrs. Sanford’s answers to media can be read a few different ways. (Sanford’s "I’m-here-she’s-there" answer on whether they’re separated or not can be read a couple of ways, too. Update: She asked him to leave two weeks ago.)
It wouldn’t be beyond believing that she simply said to him, "I’m staying here and taking care of my kids. You did this by yourself, buster. You can face up to it by yourself." Either way, she couldn’t be faulted for deciding her kids needed her with them right now more than her husband needed her on the state with him.
And who was the tipster that told the reporter Sanford would be arriving on a flight from Buenos Aires? A staffer in his or the Lt. Governor’s office, tired of either covering for him or cleaning up after him? A fellow Republican offended by the risk Sanford was taking and how it would affect the party? A spouse who’d just spent Father’s Day weekend with her children whose father was seeing "The Other Woman" in Argentina for an extended weekend, and had finally had enough?
Why is it that even when the questions are obvious conservative are almost pathologically averse to asking them? It’s almost as if they’re not as upset by what happened as they are about public actually being told about it.
Oh, and I’ve heard that 2012 comment about 2012 times in the last 20 minutes. Let me just say this about that.
If Mark Sanford was a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, then the Republicans have even more problems than Mark Sanford does.
And clearly he has plenty.