The last conservative standing

Sanford’s libertarian politics are an extension of his penny-pinching quirks. He decided to run for Congress after hearing economic doomsayer Jim Davidson warn that America’s debt would be its downfall, and even now, he responds to inquiries about his political philosophy by reverently reciting a 122-word quotation often attributed to an obscure 18th-century Scotsman (“a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship”). Sanford once vetoed 106 pork-barrel projects in a single swoop, then carried a pair of squealing piglets into the statehouse to make his point. Combined with his unorthodoxy on other issues—he opposes foreign interventions such as Kosovo and Iraq, supports environmental conservation and believes that the religious right has been too influential in recent years—this spending obsession girds the governor with an aura of authenticity that’s attractive to purists still reeling from Bushonomics, even though his actual record is relatively thin. “He is the candidate Rush Limbaugh and countless others who embrace the cause of shrinking government have been waiting for,” writes conservative journalist Reihan Salam: more Barry Goldwater than George W. Bush. A savvy salesman, Sanford clearly recognizes the appeal of immoderation. “What I believe I truly believe,” he boasts. “I can’t do the flavor-of-the-month approach.” So far, he’s yet to lose an election.