New Mark Sanford ad for Congress: God believes in second chances, you know

There’s shameless, there’s really shameless, and then there’s a guy touting his credentials on government accountability after he went AWOL as governor to visit his mistress on another continent and initially stuck taxpayers with the bill. Intentionally or not, the fallout from his affair comes off in the ad almost as a credential. We make mistakes, we learn from them, we become better, wiser people for it; he’s a better civil servant now than he was when South Carolina made him governor, I guess. To think, if he gets caught up in one more major scandal, he might end up as presidential timber.

The more I think about this comeback, the more I find that what grates the most is the naked careerism of it. You may remember that Sanford started out as a congressman in the mid-90s; what you may not remember is why he left Congress in 2001. Quote:

Sanford was elected to the U.S. House in the 1994 Republican takeover of the U.S. House based on newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America.” Sanford had not been involved with politics before — he considers himself a “citizen-legislator” — and he had no problem accepting the term-limit item of the Contract With America (many others in the same GOP freshman class DID have trouble with that item, including some who promised to exit and are still in the House!)

Because the Contract With America never did pass Congressional term limits, Sanford describes himself as a “self-limited” House member — he voluntarily restricted himself to three terms. Sanford makes a compelling case that “self-limited” Congressmen really do vote differently than other Congressmen — because they don’t have to worry about getting re-elected, and don’t plan to have a career in the House.

His support for term limits came with a caveat even then: Upon retiring from Congress as a “citizen-legislator,” he wasted no time running for higher office as governor. Had he not ended up “hiking the Appalachian trail,” chances are good that he would have tried to advance from “citizen-governor” to “citizen-president” last year. As it is, faced with the prospect of becoming a — shudder — citizen-citizen again, he’s decided that that fourth term in Congress isn’t such a bad idea after all. Who knows? If his polling rebounds, maybe he’ll term-limit himself again and try to unseat Lindsey Graham as citizen-senator in 2020.

The punchline here is that South Carolina’s GOP House caucus is famously fiscally conservative and frequently votes as a bloc, even if it means defying Boehner and the leadership. It’s true that Sanford’s record on spending is very good, but that’s also true of many, many other Republicans from SC. Yet he’s the favorite to win. Three cheers for name recognition?