SC Politics

‘United States Of Scandal’ Turns To Teary-Eyed South Carolina

Where have you gone, Mark Sanford?

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Henry David Thoreau went to the woods because he “wished to live deliberately,” to confront the “essential facts of life” – to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

Mark Sanford? He told everybody he went to the woods … but instead he went to Argentina to cheat on his wife. The resulting implosion of his marriage and political career became one of the enduring scandals of the 21st century – turning Sanford from legitimate presidential timber into a third-tier candidate whose pronouncements amounted to little more than trees falling deep within our nation’s darkening political woods.

Sanford represented the Palmetto State’s first congressional district in the U.S. congress from 1995-2001 and again from 2013-2019. In between he spent two terms as governor of South Carolina from 2003-2011 – during which time he experienced one of the most memorable falls from grace of any politician in the history of our country.

Sanford’s collapse was revisited Sunday evening by CNN’s Jake Tapper on a new series entitled United States of Scandal. The documentary included interviews with several of the key figures in the scandal – including the reporter who caught Sanford at the Atlanta airport returning from Argentina.

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The 115th governor of South Carolina, Sanford was well positioned to become the nation’s 45th president in 2009. America was already recoiling against the overreach of Barack Obama – and the telegenic Palmetto State chief executive with the perfect family and principled political past was poised to capitalize on the GOP’s need for a credible alternative.

While Sanford had already begun to show signs of the “malleability” that would later define his political philosophy, at the time he was still very much perceived to be the genuine article – a Republican capable of attracting the sort of cross-spectrum support necessary to defeat the Democratic incumbent.

All of that came crashing down in June of 2009, though, when Sanford traveled to Argentina to visit his “soul mate” and mistress, María Belén Chapur. The drama began on Monday, June 22, 2009 when one of the governor’s political rivals – then-state senator Jake Knotts – announced Sanford had been missing for the past four days and that his security detail had no idea where he was.

Sanford proceeded to lie about his whereabouts to his staff – telling them he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” His staff in turn provided inaccurate information to the press and the public. From there, things unraveled quickly … with the governor’s habitual navel-gazing about his emotions providing much of the momentum for his downfall.

At a memorable press conference on June 24, 2009, a teary-eyed Sanford confessed to his affair with Chapur.

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“I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina,” he said. “I hurt her. I hurt you all. I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys. I hurt friends … I hurt a lot of different folks.”

Sanford’s scandal was bumped off the front pages the next day by the death of Michael Jackson, but his refusal to stop talking about it kept fanning the flames – raising legitimate questions about his judgment and temperament. The end result of all the soul-searching? The introspective, over-sharing Sanford lost his shot at the White House in 2012 – and nearly lost his governorship.

Most importantly? He lost his wife, Jenny Sanford, the mother of his four children and the primary architect of his political ascendancy. With her no longer in the fold, Sanford was devoid of direction. As a result, his recalibrated political ceiling ended up being a return to his old congressional office – where he promptly abandoned his erstwhile courageous conviction in exchange for status quo sycophancy.

The sad coda of this reverse Damascene conversion? A humiliating 2018 primary defeat – and an embarrassingly irrelevant 2020 presidential bid.

(Click to View)

María Belén Chapur at a congressional victory celebration with Mark Sanford in 2013. (File)

As for Chapur, her relationship with the “Luv Gov” faded.

“We are in a hopelessly impossible situation of love,” Sanford wrote to Chapur in one of his letters.

The former governor has continued to find himself in similar hopelessly impossible situations, most recently with a Columbia, S.C.-based jeweler. But … has he found love?

Or perhaps a better question: Is he capable of love?

At least love beyond the reflection in the mirror?

Sanford, 63, continues to wax philosophical as a forgettable – and increasingly weathered – cable television talking head. When he’s not pontificating, he operates a last-mile delivery service from his adopted home of Dale, S.C. – which could be the saddest part of the cautionary tale his existence has become.

“It is not the crises we go through in life which define us, it is how we respond to them,” a veteran Palmetto politico told me once.

To view the CNN documentary chronicling Sanford’s response to his greatest crisis, click here …

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well … for anybody.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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9 comments

Ralph Hightower Top fan February 19, 2024 at 10:58 am

What is it about the first House district of South Carolina, which encompasses Charleston? They have a propensity for electing loons. After the debacle of our GPS-challenged governor, they go ahead and elect him, once again, to his former seat in the house. Mace is part of a House group that is called the “Crazy Eights”. The only past Representatives that I would say is normal, is Joe Cunningham.

Perhaps, Sanford is enjoying his political exile on his Charleston plantation digging holes with his backhoe. I read an web article that mentions his hobby of digging holes. Perhaps he realizes that he can’t get elected in the Trump Party, formerly known as the Republican party.

Reply
Truth February 20, 2024 at 11:00 am

Lotta truth in your comment, Ralph! Thanks!

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Dum Spiro Spero Top fan February 19, 2024 at 11:42 am

I don’t get it. A man cheats on his wife while governor, admits it publicly, asks forgiveness, and it ruins his political career. Another guy cheats on three wives, one with a porn star that he pays to keep quit, is convicted in civil court of sexually assaulting and defaming another one, lies about it all, and will soon become the nominee of the Republican Party for the Presidency. Go figure.

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CongareeCatfish Top fan February 20, 2024 at 11:24 am

So true! And don’t forget the guy who, as a senator, allegedly raped his staffer in the SoB elevator, who despite being consistent in her story for over 3 decades, and despite all the recent screaming about “believing all women,” apparently cannot be believed by the mainstream media because the accused is a Democrat. And then of course there is the coupe de grace of the certain Massachusetts senator who drove a car off a bridge into a seaside canal with such force that is caused his buxom blonde passenger’s panties to fling right off of her and into the car’s glovebox. A complete mystery of physics, I tell you!

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Terminator44 Top fan February 19, 2024 at 1:23 pm

To “Dumb Spiro Spero”, you forgot to say “allegedly” cheated with a porn star. No evidence to back that up, mind you. You may want to correct the minor misspelling of your label. I think that mine fits you better.

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Dum Spiro Spero Top fan February 19, 2024 at 7:51 pm

To Terminator, horrors,, mea culpa, I left the “e” out of “quiet.” And you are right (except for your “no evidence”comment, there’s plenty, including the statements of his fixer, Cohen.) All crimes that he has been accused of should start with “allegedly” as in the Florida secret documents case to the Georgia election interference one. The gears of justice grind slowly. But of course, Trump in his own mind is just a victim of unfounded persecution. Check out his most recent comment where he compares himself to murdered Russian dissident, Alexis Navalny, And not one word of condemnation of Putin.

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Dum Spiro Spero Top fan February 19, 2024 at 7:54 pm

I intentionally misspelled one word. See if you can spot it.

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B B BROCKMAN Top fan February 25, 2024 at 7:18 am

I think you totally missed the point, Dum A$$

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Michael Covert Top fan February 23, 2024 at 9:25 am

“….last mile delivery service”? Please explain!

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