Mark Sanford resigns as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain.)
Mark Sanford is back, in case you haven't heard. You know, the South Carolina governor who suddenly disappeared for weeks in June of 2009. He had told his staff, in the formulation that immediately became infamous, that he was off to "hike the Appalachian Trail," then did not answer fifteen cell phone calls from his chief of staff and neglected to contact his family on Father's Day, for he was actually in Argentina with his lover, who is now his fiancée. He then told the Associated Press he could die now, "knowing I had met my soul mate." He also admitted he had "crossed the line" with several other women during his twenty-year marriage. And then, last week, he emerged from the political, um, wilderness to win a sixteen-way primary for the Republican nomination to replace a retiring Congressman in South Carolina's 1st District, an office he held from 1995 to 2001, in a district that went Republican in 1980 and never looked back. Which is to say, contemporary politics' most flamboyant philanderer is almost certainly heading back to Congress—unless Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Stephen Colbert's sister, scores an upset—sent there as emissary of a party that has made "family values" its calling card for over a generation.
It drives us liberals and lefties to distraction: How do Republicans absorb all that hypocrisy without their heads exploding? Here I am, again, to explain: nothing new under the wingnut sun. I wrote at length about the same subject in 2007, when another conservative solon, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, hung on comfortably after revelations he was a client of a D.C. prostitute, and allegations of activities with hookers back home of the sort ordinary mortals only learn about from reading some of Dan Savage's stranger columns. Quite the "family values" dude, was David Vitter: a senator who said he didn't "believe there's any issue" more important than a Constitutional amendment to "protect the sanctity of traditional marriage," who compared the devastation of gay marriage to the Hurricanes Rita and Katrina combined, and was adjudged a "true social conservative" in 2003 by the right-wing Religious Freedom Coalition. And yet he handily won reelection from the Deep South family values voters of Louisiana, winning the Republican primary by a margin of 80 points.
I noted, too, the case of the still-thriving public profile of Newt Gingrich despite his serial infidelities, including while working to impeach Bill Clinton; Rush Limbaugh, despite getting caught with boner pills after an apparent hookerfest in the Dominican Republic, and also about the redemption of Ted Haggard—"Husband of Gayle, father of 5, author," and pastor of his own new church in his hometown of Colorado Springs, he brags on his website. That despite getting caught using meth with a male prostitute in 2006, even as he organized for Colorado's ban on same-sex marriage.