Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Josh has a post over at Ballot Box suggesting that Sanford's viability, like that of any politician caught in a big scandal, depends on the depth of the reservoir of popularity and goodwill he may have enjoyed before getting caught out.
Josh suggests that Sanford's preexisting unpopularity will provide cover to those calling for his resignation or lawmakers contemplating impeachment.
There's already some evidence to suggest that's correct. The State is running a poll over on its Web site. Thus far, of the 17,615 people who have clicked yes or no, 69 percent say that Sanford should resign.
A quickie poll done by Insider Advantage, which presumably is more scientific than the self-selecting group at thestate.com, shows that 50 percent want him to resign, while 42 percent say no and 8 percent manage not to have an opinion.
Well, here's my opinion: Sanford shouldn't resign.
Up to the whole revelation yesterday of the affair, I kept putting up posts suggesting that Sanford's going AWOL ultimately isn't that big a deal.
Being a governor means unending stress. Constant two-minute meetings that turn into five or 10 minutes, you're always running late, you've got to make a million decisions but staff never builds in time just to think, you're expected to be on top of your game all the time.
This is the profession they clawed their way into. But even if you love it and thrive on it, it's easy to see why someone would want to go off the grid for a few days. And apparently Sanford would do this, after legislative sessions ended, long before he hooked up with "Maria."
The problem, as people kept pointing out Monday and Tuesday, is that if you're governor, you're always supposed to be on call. You never know when there's going to be an emergency that requires the governor's authority as commander in chief of the National Guard, not to mention his or her other responsibilities.
Now, depending on who you believe, Sanford may or may not have been reachable by cell phone while he was in, as it turns out, Buenos Aires. Some accounts suggest that staff could reach him in an emergency, but they never had to. The only crisis was the one generated by the fact of his absence.
Sanford did lie to his staff, but that's hardly an impeachable offense. If you were flying to another country to see your mistress, would you tell your underlings?
Flying off under false pretenses to see your mistress is a bit different than just taking a few days off for vacation. But is it so different, really, that it would be an impeachable offense?
And what else is it that Sanford did that was a dereliction of his official responsibilities, as opposed to a betrayal of his wife? He apparently parked a state car at the airport. I don't know the rules about personal use of state vehicles in South Carolina. Frankly, I don't care that much. I'm not even sure that I care whether Sanford paid for the parking.
Sanford is a famous cheapskate, but he's also loaded. I'm assuming that he paid for his own airfare. If not, or if his earlier trips to Argentina were paid for by the state and he wasn't conducting legitimate business while he was there, that would be a problem. (Update: Of course we've since found out that Sanford did have a tryst while traveling on the state's dime on an official trip last year. He says he'll reimburse.)
But this isn't like Eliot Spitzer, who broke the law by using a call girl service. It's not like James McGreevey, who secured a sensitive state job for the object of his affection. It's not even like Paul Patton's situation, where there were questions about state regulators and contracts at the nursing home run by his mistress -- and Patton didn't resign.
Bill Clinton had a dalliance with (among others) a young woman who was a White House intern, fooled around in the Oval Office while talking on the phone with at least one congressman and lied about it not just under oath but on TV and to his staff, his cabinet and his friends. All of that is worse behavior than what we know about Sanford, yet ultimately the country didn't want him impeached (even though Sanford himself did).
Fox, by the way, has posted excerpts from an interview conducted with Sanford earlier this month in which he talks about the Lewinsky matter. Sanford may be a Grade A hypocrite but that's not a firing offense in politics.
And Sanford's behavior, while idiotic, has not been criminal, as far as I can tell. It impinged on his official duties, but no more, in essence, than any time a governor takes a few days off, for whatever reason, wholesome or illicit.
Sanford was never the greatest governor. I imagine his life would go a lot easier over the coming months if he were to resign. But that's really up to him.
Otherwise, he was elected to a four-year term, which is more than half over. I'm a big believer in regular order when it comes to political terms. There's too great an opportunity for shenanigans if political opponents can find ways to drive governors or others from office at any point.
Impeaching Rod Blagojevich was more than justifiable. Impeaching Sanford would be purely political, a chance for his enemies to take advantage of his dunderheadedness, of his poor judgment and mistakes in love -- and largely, as Josh suggests, because Sanford came into this mess too weak to fight off any attacks.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.