Did Sanford Exorcise The Ghosts of Akin And Mourdock?
Even before the usual suspects on the other side took to painting the entire GOP as depraved for standing idly by as Mark Sanford coasted to victory Tuesday, the smart set on our side was uttering eerily similar caveats and misgivings. If Sanford lost, the momentum was fatal, and the die was cast for doom in 2014. If Sanford won, we’d lose in 2014 because 434 other GOP congressional candidates and a third of the Senate could do nothing but condemn him, and that might not be enough. One of the consultant class in a blue northeast state even admonished backing candidates who merely had Rs after their names. Minutes later Gabriel Gomez made it look easy to run against a candidate with an R after his name, impugning Sanford on not only moral grounds but slamming him as a career politician. Gomez is picking up where Brown left off and is campaigning against anyone with an R after their name. Maybe that’s what that consultant meant. In any event, it’s a subject for another piece.
So this was an outlier as troublemaker races for Republicans go. It was a special election in the reddest of red districts. Sanford is a pariah, but still a formidable campaigner. Colbert-Busch carried impossible baggage both inside and outside her campaign. She got the Martha Coakley treatment from Monday morning quarterbacks who posthumously painted her as too flawed to beat even the most flawed Republican in a special election that got the undivided attention of the nation. And we should mention the left poured millions into this race, while Sanford was left twisting in the wind by the NRCC and his state’s own congressional delegation.
You could argue doomed messaging doomed Akin and Mourdock, and Sanford was a dependable conservative who stayed on message but strayed from the Appalachian Trail and his marriage, but in the time we live in, those are one and the same. In an age where the rules for oppo have changed and unsealed divorce settlements can be as big a weapon as a legislative paper trail as far as the eye can see, politicians are never “off the clock.” We can bemoan the decades long tradition of Kennedy and Clinton dalliances and the left’s iron will to forsake those for one in the win column, but at this point, what difference does it make?
The left is skilled at making the right play by its own rules. That’s one of those Alinsky bullet points, isn’t it? And they win at that. The right does what it feels is the right thing, sets the bar rather high for its own, and tries to be a good loser when their political adversaries thumb their nose at our blue noses. We eat our own. We feel principled when we do, but then we lose. As I write this, I’m not watching the morning shows, but I expect they will be able to assemble a matrix of pols with Rs after their names who will roll over and do tricks in the name of trashing Mark Sanford. I expect that from the other side. I resent it from ours.
We’ve suffered and dragged across the finish line candidates we knew full would sabotage us in governance, damage the brand, and enable the other side to cast us as extreme and partisan. Mark Sanford will be as imperfect as a congressman as he is in life. He’ll be personally shunned and legislatively isolated. There is no dancing around that. The bad news is, his constituents got who they voted for. The good news is, his constituents got who they voted for.
We need to get out of the business of enabling the other side to force us to eat our own, give them talking points, red meat, the rope to hang us. You’re entitled to your personal distaste for Mark Sanford, not self-destructive self-righteousness and navel gazing to a point where you think losing teaches a lesson and being in a non-governing minority is somehow cleansing and virtuous. I like to win.