Washington Post Political Blogger
Wednesday, June 24, 2009 3:30 PM
Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) admitted in a press conference in Washington today that he had an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina and that he will resign his position as president of the Republican Governors Association.
Chris Cillizza, washingtonpost.com political blogger, was online Wednesday, June 24, at 3:30 p.m. ET to discuss reaction from Capitol Hill, from his home state of South Carolina and from the Republican Party.
Chris Cillizza: Hello everyone. We've just witnessed one of the most remarkable political press conferences in recent memory -- Gov. Mark Sanford admitting to an extramarital affair following a huge media storm due to a five day absence from the state.
This was raw, emotional drama. Sanford was clearly scuffling throughout the press conference...rambling about his work for Eastern Airlines, about going to see Jurassic Park, etc.
And, in an almost totally unheard of move, he took questions from the media!
Just stunning stuff. let's get to your questions.
Washington, D.C.: How on earth did he not think his leaving for a week, with no one able to contact him would go unnoticed?
What would have happened if there had been an emergency in his state?
Chris Cillizza: For the past 48 hours I have been asking myself the same question.
I took some flack for initially seizing on the reports that Sanford had been out of pocket for five days -- people said that he was entitled to his privacy etc -- but something just seemed wrong.
I kept hearing from sources inside the South Carolina government that no one knew where Sanford was and that his staff hadn't spoken to him in days.
It seemed too odd not to follow up on.
Did I ever think it would end like this? Absolutely not. But politics is a STRANGE business.
Madison, Wisc.: Is there any indication that Sanford has felt pressure to resign from office -- not just as head of the RGA -- in S.C.?
Chris Cillizza: Lots of people asking about whether Sanford might resign from office.
I think it's pretty tough to answer that question at the moment as it depends, at least in part, on where the story goes from here.
Having an affair isn't illegal but when a state's governor leaves said state for five days without telling anyone on his staff and apparently purposefully misleads them about where he is going, then that is a BIG problem.
One other thing to remember when pondering what's next for Sanford: he has made an enemy out of almost everyone in the state legislature -- including the Republicans -- so there will be little if any sympathy for him in the coming days.
Alexandria, Va.: How long will it take the media to identify this Argentine woman? Does Sanford really think he can keep her identity a secret?
Chris Cillizza: Not long.
Not sure he thinks he can keep her identity private. But he also probably felt like naming her with the national media watching wasn't the smartest move either.
Fairfax, Va.: Chris,
What a Bombshell! I guess my question is.. what are the real implications to this for Sanford's future career? Goodness knows that extramarital affairs don't necessarily spell the end of a politician's career. So what consequences, if any, do you think Sanford will face for this?
Chris Cillizza: Sanford was term limited out as South Carolina governor in 2010 no matter what so the immediate question is whether he can hang on until then or whether he will leave office or be forced out before.
As for Sanford's 2012 prospects, it's hard to see how he can recover enough to be a serious candidate. Again, having an affair isn't totally disqualifying but misleading the public about your whereabouts for five days is VERY problematic.
My guess is that this effectively ends Sanford's 2012 ambitions. I have been proven wrong MANY times in politics so I never say never but this is as close to a fatal blow to a politician's ambitions as I have ever witnessed.
Chris Cillizza: Sanford's office just released a follow-up statement to his press conference....
"I have made decisions that have hurt and will continue to hurt them, and for that I'm sincerely sorry. Jenny has stood by me through campaign after campaign, through hard time after hard time, and neither she nor the boys deserve this. Please offer them your prayers," Sanford said.
Atlanta, Ga.: Is the Lt. Gov of S.C. a Democrat or Republican? Will this factor in his decision to resign if called upon?
Chris Cillizza: The Lt. Gov. in South Carolina is named Andre Bauer and he is a Republican who is, coincidentally, one of a handful of candidates running to replace Sanford in 2010.
Bauer played a critical role in the unspooling of this story as he released a statement on Monday night making clear that he and his staff had been misled by Sanford's staff about his whereabouts.
If Sanford resigned, Bauer would step in -- giving him a leg up in the 2010 primary.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: Has anyone checked the South Carolina state Constitution to see whether Gov. Sanford has violated any of its provisions re going AWOL without notifying the Lt. Governor? Could you or your colleagues please let us know what you find?
Chris Cillizza: People are working on it right now...this is what I meant when I said in an analysis on the Fix that this story isn't over yet.
Washington, D.C.: Will there be fallout for his staff as well? Where did the story about him hiking the Appalachian Trail come from?
Chris Cillizza: Sanford seemed to try to absolve his staff from blame in all of this during the press conference.
As best as I can reconstruct it, he left on Thursday night and mentioned to his staff that he might hike the Appalachian Trail for a few days...purposely throwing them off the scent that he was headed to see his mistress in Argentina.
The staff then reported he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail" (a euphemism for the centuries!), giving it their best guess as to Sanford's location.
I am inclined to give the staff a pass on this one. It's clear that Sanford was trying to keep his destination and the intent of his trip a secret and keeping his staff in the dark was part of that.
Chicago, Ill.: Thanks for taking questions. Sanford's office repeatedly asserted that he was hiking, or that he had just left to clear his mind or work on a book or whatever. We now know those statements were false.
Did Sanford's staff lie on his behalf or were they similarly mislead? Did ANYONE in South Carolina actually know where their governor was for those 5 or 6 days? I don't necessarily care about the adultery in and of itself, but Sanford's complete disregard for his official duties is breathtaking. Thanks.
Chris Cillizza: See my previous post.
And, as I wrote in the analysis of the press conference now up on the Fix, THE COVERUP IS ALWAYS WORSE THAN THE CRIME.
And, yes, I typed that in ALL CAPS on purpose.
washingtonpost.com: The Fix (Post, June 24)
Frederick, Md.: Did we finally have one of these press conferences where the wife was absent? I'm so tired of the poor women forced to stand behind the podium and smile.
Chris Cillizza: His wife, Jenny, was not there.
Sanford did say that his wife had known about the affair, which had been going on for the last year or so, for the last five and a half months.
Having spent a significant amount of time in South Carolina due to its prominence in the presidential nominating process, I can tell you that Jenny Sanford is widely admired in political circles in the state.
She is seen as a savvy strategist and full partner in her husband's political career.
Which is, of course, what makes the affair all the more stunning.
Washington, D.C.: Chris, Sanford's rambling press conference -- almost incoherent at times -- makes me think that this guy is on the edge of a breakdown. It's kind of horrible to watch, and I am no fan of the guy.
Chris Cillizza: I would agree that it was painful to watch. As I said at the start of the chat, it was incredibly raw and emotional.
Sanford choked up repeatedly and even said he had spent the last five days in Argentina "crying" about the situation.
Usually politicians in this sort of imbroglio take a day or two to compose themselves and prepare exactly what they want to say.
Sanford, due to the national attention the story drew, didn't have that luxury.
While it was hard to watch, I also found it incredibly arresting television.
Wickford, R.I.: Don't you think we're spending too much time exploring sexual habits of politicians?
Chris Cillizza: To be honest, this is not really a story about Sanford's affair.
I initially began following and reporting on the story because I found it more than passing strange that a governor would disappear for five days -- over father's day weekend -- with no one including his family having any idea where he was.
The admission of an extramarital affair by Sanford today in some ways takes a back seat to all that came before it.
Politicians are paid by taxpayers to represent their interests. A five day excursion to Argentina doesn't qualify.
Philadelphia, Pa.: How do we get past this type of story dominating our politics?
Chris Cillizza: Not sure. Human nature is a fascinating thing -- people can and often do things that are contrary to their own best interests.
It's part of what makes politics so incredibly fascinating to me.
Washington, D.C.: Any chance the woman in question is related to Fanne Fox? (Wilbur Mills' mistress from the 1970s who was a stripper known as the "Argentine Firecracker.")
Chris Cillizza: :)
It is a historical point several people have made to me in the last few hours.
Washington, D.C.: Can you confirm whether Sanford explicitly said that his 'dear, dear friend' was a woman?
Chris Cillizza: he did.
Washington, D.C.: Is it just me or is this the apology that seemed the most truly heartfelt of the last 14 years of extramarital apologies? Can you remember another guy crying?
Chris Cillizza: It was incredibly heartfelt.
As I have said, the rawness of Sanford was what struck me most. This was drama at its most basic level.
Grand Ridge, Ill.: Now that both Mark Sanford and John Ensign have metaphorically shot themselves in the foot, who remains as possible legitimate contenders for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012? Is it down to Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal, or are there others?
Chris Cillizza: I am going to get into this much more in my "Winners and Losers" column for the Fix tomorrow morning.
Right off the bat I would say the elimination (or close to it) of Ensign and Sanford as 2012 candidate helps candidates like Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as it effectively narrows the field and creates more oxygen -- in the press, in money circles, in the talent race -- for them.
More to come tomorrow morning...don't want to give away ALL of my A material....:)
Denver, Colo.: The news conference was an absolute train wreck. The rambling about the woman who started as a "dear" friend, and talking about how they met. Considering this seems to happen over and over, especially for Republicans, what is the best way to announce potentially career-ending news?
Chris Cillizza: 1. There is no good way to do it.
2. Taking questions, while admirable, is probably not smart.
3. Short is good.
4. Long is bad.
5. As weird as this is, Ensign's handling of his own extramarital affair has been relatively good.
Chris Cillizza: Here's a thought from Republican consultant Curt Anderson:
"This press conference was a completely narcissistic act, masquerading as humility. It was horribly embarrassing for everyone, including the viewers. If he really wants to put his family back together he should resign and go do that, and spare us the pain of having to hear one more minute of this absurd saga."
Atlanta, Ga. : It struck me that Sanford never said the affair was over, or that he wanted to stay with his wife. Did I miss something?
Chris Cillizza: Very good catch...Sanford was asked directly whether the relationship with the woman in Argentina was over and after a long answer said that he was "committed to trying to get my heart right".
Not clear what exactly that means.
St. Paul, Minn.: You just posted that Mrs. Sanford knew about the affair. Does that imply that she lied about knowing were he was?
Chris Cillizza: No idea at all...though I would assume that is a question being asked of her even as we chat.
washingtonpost.com: The Fix: S.C. Governor Mark Sanford Admits Affair (The Fix, June 24)
Woodbridge, Va.: If he had lied to his staff about being in the Appalachian Trail, why would he admit to the reporter that he was in Argentina? Why would he shoot himself in the foot?
Chris Cillizza: I think what you witnessed over the past 48 hours or so was the unraveling of a man's life in the public eye.
Trying to understand why Sanford said or did anyone thing using a rational lens is probably a mistake.
This was a man struggling badly with his own emotional life, and trying to find a way out of what was a disastrous situation for his future political prospects.
So, I think it's almost impossible to stand in Sanford's shoes and explain why he did what he did.
Alexandria, Va.: So, should he resign?
Chris Cillizza: We report, you decide.
Washington, D.C.: If he'd been able to sneak back into the country, hop in a car and pretend that he'd been hiking all along, do you think he would have? Do you think that was the plan?
Chris Cillizza: As I just wrote, I don't think we are dealing with someone who was particularly rational.
The idea that the governor of a state could disappear for five days, visit his mistress in Argentina and come back to the U.S. without causing a stir seems far-fetched.
But, who knows what Sanford was thinking?
Alexandria, Va.: Sanford apologized to his wife and children but didn't choke up until he talked about the damage to his friendship with Tom Davis and others. It was an emotional press conference but it felt emotional in all the wrong ways. And that's why his office issues a follow-up statement: to show more respect for his immediate family.
Chris Cillizza: A thought on the presser....my two cents: Sanford was raw emotionally in every direction...hard to distinguish between who he felt worst about disappointing.
Greenville, S.C.: Mark and Jenny Sanford are loved and respected by many, many people in S.C. I am afraid that he is in the middle of a breakdown. Did he say that the relationship with the woman was over? I thought I heard him saying that he and Jenny were "reconciling?" Can you help with this? Thanks.
Chris Cillizza: Mentioned this earlier...Sanford's quote on whether things were over was that he was "committed to trying to get my heart right".
Which, in and of itself, is a bit strange.
D.C.: Have you found any quotes from Sanford condemning any other politicos for infidelity?
Chris Cillizza: We've just posted on our "Capitol Briefing" blog that Sanford was one of a handful of Congressmen who said they could not support Rep. Bob Livingston for Speaker after his admission of an extramarital affair in late 1998.
Credit for honesty?: I keep reading people giving Sanford credit for honesty, but I could have sworn he ducked the question about whether he lied to his staff about where he was.
And did he answer the question about whether he ended the affair? His response was so long and convoluted that I couldn't tell.
Chris Cillizza: My take on his answers was that he was absolutely flailing emotionally during the press conference and, as a result, wound p rambling quite a bit.
Is it possible this was a tactic he employed to not answer some of the toughest questions? Sure. But it didn't feel that way to me.
Irmo, S.C.: How sad for all involved but the egos of politicians everywhere are a problem. As for the state missing him and the uproar from legislators -- the legislators don't think we need a governor anyway so why the fuss? Their egos are totally out of control. I hope that the ballot box will take care of the situation next time. I sincerely hope that he does not resign and leave us with the likes of Andre Bauer.
Chris Cillizza: A thought from the Palmetto State....
Bedford Falls: Is it known if the Argentinian woman is herself married?
Chris Cillizza: We need to find out who she is first.
Santa Barbara, Calif.: What are the initial reactions from the Republican heavyweights, both elected and non-elected (Limbaugh, Gingrich, etc.)?
Chris Cillizza: Not much react yet...most of the response has been people saying how bad they feel for Sanford's family.
Boston, Mass.: Why do you think your shallow policy free form of reporting contributes anything to political discourse in this country? Do you ever get sick of the same old tired Beltway crap that only prevents the country as a whole from actually understanding issues?
Do you have any desire for intelligent analysis and substantive writing?
Chris Cillizza: Thanks Boston!
For the record, I have never -- and will never -- bill the Fix as anything but a forum for those of us who love politics.
The Washington Post does TONS of great reporting on the policy end of politics and I leave that to them.
The great thing about this country? If you don't like what I write, you don't have to read it!
It was incredibly heartfelt. : Really, you think so? I just don't believe anything this guy says. I think he's crying because he ruined his career, not because he hurt anyone.
Chris Cillizza: Another take...I am trying to be as un-cynical as possible here though the last few weeks have made that task harder.
Chris Cillizza: Folks, that's all I have time for today....thanks for joining me on such short notice...the conversation continues over at The Fix -- www.washingtonpost.com/thefix.
washingtonpost.com: The Fallout from Sanford's South American Adventure (Post, June 24)
washingtonpost.com: Sanford Admits Affair, First Thoughts (The Fix, June 24)
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