Not to forget Spitzer and Edwards
* JUNE 25, 2009
Sex Scandals Short-Circuit GOP Efforts to Regroup
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By JONATHAN WEISMAN and SUSAN DAVIS
When South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford stood choking back tears before a horde of cameras and reporters Wednesday, explaining his mysterious disappearance and confessing and apologizing for an extramarital affair, he said he would "lay it out" and "let the chips fall where they may."
Those chips may ricochet beyond the governor's mansion in Columbia. The personal travails on display during Mr. Sanford's awkward news conference became the latest symbol of the struggles vexing his Republican Party, as another of its rising stars was upended by a sexual indiscretion.
Mr. Sanford's confession came eight days after Sen. John Ensign of Nevada announced that he had engaged in an extramarital affair. Mr. Ensign resigned his post in the Senate Republican leadership. Mr. Sanford resigned his as head of the Republican Governors Association and appeared to give up his budding ambitions -- to help the party redefine itself with a new message and new face, and possibly to challenge President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.
* Wash Wire: S.C. Rep. Inglis Warns GOP on Self-Righteousness
* Vote: When will the GOP retake the presidency?
And the GOP, still struggling after losing control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, was left to wonder when it would stop seeing its attempts to attract positive attention trumped by embarrassments.
"Republicans have stood on a foundation of moral principle, and each time one of our own engages in this type of behavior, it crumbles away," said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former leadership aide in Congress. "That's why this chipping away at our credibility can't continue."
Mr. Sanford nodded to that problem when he said: "If somebody falls within the fellowship of believers or the walk of faith, I think it makes it that much harder for believers to say, 'Well, where was that person coming from?'"
Rep. Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican, said it is time to rethink its notion of morality, and perhaps the governor's travails could help move that process along. "If it causes us to lose the stinking rot of self-righteousness and causes us to understand we are all in need of some grace, it could be a very good thing for the Republican Party," he said.
[vitter] Associated Press
* Sen. David Vitter
* Republican, Louisiana
* July 2007: Identified as a client of a Washington, D.C., prostitution service
[Craig] Associated Press
* Sen. Larry Craig
* Republican, Idaho
* August 2007: Pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct related to alleged lewd behavior in a Minneapolis airport men's room
[spitzer] Bloomberg News
* Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer
* Democrat, New York
* March 2008: Resigned after reports that he was a client of a prostitution ring
[Edwards] Associated Press
* Former Sen. John Edwards
* Democrat, North Carolina
* August 2008: Admitted to an affair with a former campaign worker
[U.S. Senator John Ensign] Reuters
* Sen. John Ensign
* Republican, Nevada
* June 2009: Said he had an affair with a female member of his campaign staff
The sex scandals dogging the Republican Party the past three years have cropped up across the country: the September 2006 resignation of Florida Rep. Mark Foley after his inappropriate online communications with male teenagers in the House page program; the June 2007 arrest of former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig in a gay sex-sting operation in the Minneapolis airport; and the July 2007 admission of Louisiana Sen. David Vitter that he had been a client of a Washington, D.C.-based escort service. Mr. Vitter is running for re-election against a porn star, who said she entered the race to highlight his hypocrisy.
Still, it is too soon to write the Republican obituary for 2010 or 2012. Democrats appeared similarly weakened in the wake of the 1988 election, but eventually defeated President George H.W. Bush in his 1992 re-election bid.
"Certainly we will get by this as Republicans," said former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson, noting the popularity of Republicans such as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. The latter immediately took over as head of the Republican Governors Association.
Neither Messrs. Sanford nor Ensign is exactly a household name -- certainly not of the stature of, say, former Democratic Gov. Elliot Spitzer of New York, whose own pratfall featured his use of a prostitution service, or John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate who admitted to an affair while his wife battles incurable cancer. The two Republicans' lack of renown could temper any blow to the party, former Bush White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
Mr. Sanford's confession comes as the party is starting to gain some traction in battling Democrats, focusing on the still-weak economy and raising fears among voters about big budget deficits and an overly intrusive federal government. Circumstances are giving the GOP its voice, Mr. Fratto said, regardless of some members' foibles.
But the Sanford scandal will neutralize, at least for now, one of the party's most vocal spokesmen for that emerging message.
Ever since Mr. Obama signed his $787 billion economic-stimulus law in February, the South Carolina governor has been one of the most ardent voices of opposition. He fought first with South Carolina Democrats, then with many Palmetto State Republicans over roughly $700 million of stimulus funds he didn't want South Carolina to accept. The battle had made him a hero among many small-government conservatives and had lifted his stature among Republicans beyond his home state.
Mr. Sanford was one of a class of Republican governors seen by party loyalists as possibly helping the GOP return to power. And he isn't the only one to have hit rough waters of late.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been hit with a number of ethics complaints as her approval ratings have slipped. She has also had high-profile spats with the party establishment over speaking gigs. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana was given a national platform to respond to Mr. Obama's first congressional address in February, but his speech was widely panned. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, meanwhile, chose to accept Mr. Obama's offer to become ambassador to China.