Opinion: Mark Sanford: Did the governor’s walk in the woods doom his presidential hopes?

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It’s been a rough year for Mark Sanford, the popular governor of South Carolina touted as a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.


First he made a big national showing of turning down funds from President Obama’s $787-billion stimulus package, arguing that he would accept the state’s $700 million only to pay down South Carolina’s debt -- not for its intended purpose to fund education and law enforcement programs. Sued by an 18-year-old high school senior, he lost in court. He tussled with the state’s attorney general over the issue and suffered setbacks in the Legislature, which overrode his vetoes on spending the money.

Last Thursday, after the legislative session ended, Sanford left the governor’s mansion, driving off in a black Suburban SUV. He did not take his security detail. He did not tell his lieutenant governor where he was going. He told his aides only that he needed to recharge his batteries. Don’t call me, he told the staff, explaining that he planned to turn off his cellphone, I’ll call you. As for his wife, First Lady Jenny Sanford left for their vacation home where she spent the Father’s Day weekend with their four sons.

“He was writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids,” Jenny Sanford told the Associated Press while vacationing with the couple’s four sons at their Sullivan’s Island beach house.

Now it turns out that Sanford was doing that old walk in the woods routine, hiking along the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail. Or, anyway, that’s what his staff says. “The governor was somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten,” spokesman Joel Sawyer said, adding that the governor plans to return to work tomorrow.

Bloggers are having a field day, most connecting the dots between the governor’s four-day disappearance and the dimming of his presidential ambitions.

“A president cannot just leave suddenly, to go on a hiking trip,” said PoliGazette’s Michael van der Gallen. “Can you imagine the ads his opponents will run? Images of people in a panic ... followed by a shot of Humpty Dumpty Sanford taking a hike, with a silly grin on his face.”

“Assume this means he’s not running in 2012, as the thought of a C-in-C who’d jet off in the dead of night to Mexico to lie on a rock and just “be” isn’t what most Republicans have in mind for an age of terror — unless he takes the guy who carries the nuclear football with him, of course,” agreed Hot Air.

Added First Draft, “If I were a loony Red Stater, I’d be positing wild conspiracy theories about Democrat cabals taking out Republican presidential contenders before they can get going. First John Ensign (about the only thing he didn’t do was dare reporters to follow him, telling them they’d be bored), now Sanford. But I’m not a Red Stater, and I firmly believe that Republican presidential contenders are perfectly capable of imploding all by themselves.”

If Sanford’s candidacy is imploding, the two-term governor and former congressman might have more time for those solitary walks in the woods.

-- Johanna Neuman


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