The XX Factor

Mark Sanford Wins. Time to Start Ignoring Him Again.

Mark Sanford imitates the what-the-hell pose most voters made before voting for him

Photo by Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images

Despite running one of the most dazzlingly creepy campaigns since Newt Gingrich was a viable politician, Mark Sanford managed to pull out a win in the special election to determine the congressman for the 1st district in South Carolina. This is not particularly surprising, as a dead tree stump with a wig would win that election as long as there was an (R) next to Tree Stump McDead on the ballot. Nor is this the first time that a “family values” Republican has gotten the straight white guy exemption that has been extended to blatant hypocrites like David Vitter and Scott DesJarlais.

What is surprising is that the win is being heralded as some kind of statement on Sanford’s abilities as a campaigner. As Alex Pareene argues in Salon, it is not:

Yes, under-performing for a Republican in a heavily Republican district, in a special election, is definitely proof that Sanford was a superior candidate, and not merely that he had an R by his name. If anything, Sanford’s victory proves that candidates matter only in terms of ideology, not biography. In a very conservative district, the Republican candidate will win, even if he’s a weird creep with a humiliating past.

The fact of the matter is that Sanford’s adultery and off-putting nature did lose him points in the election. He won by nine points, but the previous representative to hold the seat, Republican Tim Scott, won by 26 points. Romney won the district by 18 points. People picked Sanford with the same enthusiasm that vegetarians at the airport pick a slice of overcooked cheese pizza because there’s nothing else available. 

Sanford will have to run again in 2014 to keep the seat, which he will do barring a major political scandal, but we’re unlikely to recapture the sleaze-magic that was this election. Sanford won’t have to campaign as hard in the future, giving him fewer opportunities to defend himself for harassing his ex-wife. No more will he need to drive around South Carolina searching for women who will admit they dislike him to his face. Sadly, it is now time for Sanford to drift off into the relative obscurity, digging holes on his property to relax and reminiscing about the good old days of hijacking journalists’ rental cars. The Internet is bound to be a glummer, more somber place.