We’ve been telling people for months that S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford still harbored delusions of holding public office again … and now the soon-to-be former governor is taking his first tentative steps in that direction.

As his scandal-ravaged second term draws to a (merciful) close, Sanford has been working hard to recast his legacy … going so far as to say that multiple scandals that stemmed from his bizarre admission of an extramarital affair with Latin lover Maria Belen Chapur actually helped him become a better governor.

Obviously that’s patently untrue (click here) … but the broader, longer-term objective of this exhaustive image reclamation effort is now beginning to take shape.

In what is likely to be his final interview with the Associated Press before leaving office, the 50-year-old Sanford said on Monday that he had “no plans” to seek public office again – but then added that “what I’ve also learned in life is you never say never.”

“Never say never?”

Not surprisingly, national news outlets like The Politico quickly jumped on the story – pointing out that Sanford was “not ruling out an eventual return to politics.”

Oh, brother … the long and winding Appalachian Trail rolls on …

Don’t get us wrong, Sanford did a fair amount of good during his two terms as governor – at least when it comes to framing the debate in Palmetto politics. But as our founding editor has capably demonstrated – any disaffected idealist with a laptop and an internet connection can frame the debate in this state (seriously, it’s not that hard).

The real challenge is translating intellectual victories and public relations wins into tangible reforms.

Sanford was never able to achieve those reforms because he refused to leverage his tremendous political capital (and campaign fund-raising clout) into building a real reform movement. He also completely bailed on several of the fiscally conservative reforms that he was ostensibly fighting for because he wanted to keep certain issues “in play,” or because political contributions from certain high-dollar donors depended on adopting a position contrary to those reforms.

And who can forget how Sanford folded like a cheap suit at the end of the fight over $700 million in disputed federal “stimulus” funds? Or gave up fighting those fights altogether after his national aspirations had been crushed?

Also, whatever limited good Sanford did during his first six-and-a-half years in office was completely overshadowed by his last seventeen months… not necessarily his fall from grace and the embarrassing public implosion that followed … but by the hypocrisy and fundamental lack of character that were revealed as his soap opera unfolded.

For example, after rightfully imposing Spartan travel restrictions on the rest of his administration, it was later revealed that Sanford traveled like a rock star on the taxpayer dime – including a totally unnecessary taxpayer-funded trip to Buenos Aires in 2008 during which he and his Latin lover “crossed the ultimate line.”

Then there’s the fact that Sanford flat out lied to the people of this state leading up to his rambling admission of infidelity… and was then exposed as an even bigger hypocrite afterward (as this so-called champion of transparency quickly turned into a typical politician trying to cover up the extent of his crimes).

And what was Sanford’s ultimate defense to the multiple ethical violations that he committed? He basically attempted to justify his own excesses by saying that other people’s excesses were far worse that his …

Finally, let’s not forget that as soon as his hide had been spared, Sanford immediately began cutting deals aimed at facilitating his public redemption, even if those agreements came at the expense of the taxpayers. Specifically, he sold out the conservative cause by signing House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s command economic boondoggle (a.k.a. “The Kremlinator“) – a betrayal which earned him Harrell’s help in sustaining his previously Quixotic budget vetoes.

“Never say never?”

Please, Mark … say “never.”