Mark San­ford’s look­ing glass

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Opinion -

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Once upon a time, Mark San­ford might have been a con­tender, but there’s too much wa­ter un­der the bridges that stretch from this city of steeples to his erst­while home on Sul­li­van’s Is­land.

The dis­graced for­mer South Carolina gov­er­nor and con­gress­man an­nounced Sun­day that he’s run­ning against Don­ald Trump for the 2020 Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion. The third chal­lenger to toss his hat into the wish­ing well of mag­i­cal think­ing, San­ford says he plans to talk about the sky­rock­et­ing debt, tar­iffs, trade and tone. Per­fect. That’ll ig­nite the crowds and knock the grand poobah of pomp and pro­pa­ganda off his game.

You can just see it: The boy­ish San­ford — an itin­er­ant stranger in his own strange land — go­ing toe to toe with the swamp­me­n­ac­ing Trump. It would be worth the price of a ticket. Trump’s other two GOP op­po­nents, for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and for­mer Illi­nois Rep. Joe Walsh, may as well grab one while they last.

Nev­er­the­less, the buzz does what buzz does. In the days fol­low­ing San­ford’s an­nounce­ment and a series of ca­ble-TV ap­pear­ances, you’d have thought the for­mer gov­er­nor were the deus ex machina of the GOP. Re­cent com­men­tary from con­ser­va­tives has been drip­ping with so much honey you don’t know whether to build a hive or kill the drones.

The nar­ra­tivesh­mar­ra­tive is that San­ford is an old-school Repub­li­can whose con­cerns are fo­cused on a strong, boot­strap econ­omy and, well, that’s about it so far. Also, BIG HEAD­LINE, he be­lieves in cli­mate change and le­gal im­mi­gra­tion be­cause, what life form

other than Trump’s most fer­vent sup­port­ers doesn’t?

Fur­ther to San­ford’s corona­tion as GOP sav­ior, ac­cord­ing to Repub­li­can strate­gist Liz Mair writ­ing Mon­day in The New York Times, he’s a big­ger threat to Trump than his cochal­lengers be­cause he was never a “Never Trumper.” Un­like Walsh and Weld — a strong law firm name if things go awry, as surely they will — San­ford ap­pears to be un­in­ter­ested in mak­ing the race all about Trump, even though Trump’s anti-en­dorse­ment in 2018 led to San­ford’s con­gres­sional pri­mary de­feat.

Plus, wrote Mair, San­ford is more “nu­anced.” Per­haps she was think­ing of the sub­tle dif­fer­ences be­tween Ar­gentina and the Ap­palachian Trail, where in 2009 the then-gov­er­nor San­ford told ev­ery­one through a spokesper­son that he’d be hik­ing for a few days but in­stead found him­self in South Amer­ica with his mis­tress?

Mair in­sists that the tryst that ended San­ford’s gov­er­nor­ship, as well as his mar­riage, was “the least-scan­dalous scan­dal in mod­ern po­lit­i­cal his­tory” be­cause, af­ter all, he only had an “ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair be­cause he fell in love and got en­gaged to the woman.”

This con­fec­tion would be news to South Carolini­ans who were ap­palled by his de­ceit and re­pulsed by his weepy news con­fer­ence to con­fess his sins. Such a cava­lier dis­missal of a fam­ily be­trayal would also be news to ex-wife Jenny San­ford, who wrote a book, “Stay­ing True” about it. While you’re brows­ing, by all means pick up “The Speech­writer,” by Bar­ton Swaim, San­ford’s speech­writer for the lat­ter part of his ad­min­is­tra­tion. It’s hi­lar­i­ously funny and a poignant mem­oir of a ten­ure of ab­sur­dity.

It is ab­so­lutely true that San­ford, 59, is a time-tested con­ser­va­tive on bud­getary mat­ters, as my Wash­ing­ton Post col­league Jen­nifer Ru­bin ar­gued un­der the ban­ner head­line “Mark San­ford might be the Repub­li­cans’ last chance.” No one can ac­cuse him of being a fake con­ser­va­tive, she wrote.

In­deed, not. As gov­er­nor, San­ford was such a budget cruncher that he brought two baby pigs, one un­der each arm, to the state­house to make his point about — get it? — pork.

It is quite pos­si­ble that most or many Amer­i­cans don’t care what San­ford did in his per­sonal life, but the nick­named “Luv Guv’s” phi­lan­der­ing me­an­der­ings were public mat­ters by virtue of two facts: The high­est-rank­ing of­fi­cial of the state lied about his where­abouts and was un­reach­able. He sim­ply slipped the reins of gov­ern­ment and fol­lowed his pas­sion, which was con­cerned with “is­sues” hav­ing noth­ing to do with mat­ters of state.

It’s not the econ­omy, it’s char­ac­ter. Only some­one as de­spi­ca­ble as Don­ald Trump could make a man like Mark San­ford palatable. San­ford’s well­rea­soned con­cerns about the un­fath­omable debt, his low-key, soft-spo­ken style and his cool South­ern man­ner might have made him a ter­rific pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in an­other time, es­pe­cially along­side his tough, ac­com­plished wife and cen­tral-cast­ing sons. But that time has passed.

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