The XX Factor

Mark Sanford Tries Voters’ Patience in Spectacular, Flashlight Waving Fashion

Mark Sanford is accused of sneaking around his ex-wife’s house on Feb. 3rd

Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

One of the joys of being a Republican in South Carolina must be the knowledge that you can act like a complete fool and run the worst campaign imaginable, but you’ll still beat any Democrat. Yet Mark Sanford looks like he’ll be pushing the limits of this particular rule: Only three weeks before the election, he has to show up in court to answer charges that he’s trespassing on his ex-wife’s property. The same ex-wife he cheated on before resigning as chair of the Republican Governors Association in shame.

Yep, Sanford stands accused of violating the divorce settlement and trespassing into Jenny Sanford’s home in the middle of the night, using his cell phone as a flashlight. The complaint asserts that he’s done this repeatedly, and that Jenny Sanford only turned to the law after asking her ex-husband to stop multiple times.

It’s not like Mark Sanford doesn’t understand the optics of this. He publicly humiliated his wife back in 2009 by cheating on her, then made a speech portraying their marriage as a loveless commitment held together only by duty. Clearly he realizes that voters will have an easier time forgiving him if they see Jenny Sanford doing it first. (Perhaps that’s why he tried to hire her as a campaign manager.)

Yet, allegedly, there he was, waving a cell phone around for light and sneaking through a house he’s been expressly forbidden from entering. In 2009, many people were willing to ascribe Sanford’s affair to an overabundance of feeling, rather than personal weakness—it could happen to anyone, y’all!—but this behavior suggests that Sanford simply has an impulse control problem.

But let’s talk turkey: Will it hurt him in the race? South Carolina has a reputation elevating voting Republican to the one true faith, but even before this news, Sanford’s opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, was leading him in some polls. Now, with three weeks to go until the election, the Republican Party seems to have given up on Sanford, telling Politico that the national party is pulling its support from his campaign. Things just got a lot rockier along the Appalachian Trail.

Update, April 17, 5:01 p.m. This post has been revised to clarify that Sanford resigned as chair of the Republican Governors Association.