The Undesirable Situation of “Weirdness” and Presidential Aspirations
Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 24, 2009
Jonathan Martin of The Politico discusses the unexpected and still unexplained absence of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and why it may impact Sanford’s alleged presidential aspirations. We excerpt the piece below.
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South Carolina GOP Gov. Mark Sanford’s disappearing act is reviving an often-whispered, if rarely written, question about presidential hopefuls: Just how strange is too strange?
It takes a unique person to run for the White House, but the dividing line between endearingly quirky and just downright odd can often separate winners from losers.
Sanford’s solo stroll on the Appalachian Trail falls short of the character questions raised by changing your name and fudging your age (Gary Hart) or accusing an incumbent president’s campaign of trying to disrupt your daughter’s wedding (Ross Perot).
But is the straight-laced Republican base ready for a candidate whose idea of relaxation is leaving his wife and kids on Father’s Day weekend to commune with nature?
As an introduction to the American public, Sanford’s walkabout is unquestionably damaging.
Yet past political figures have recovered from inauspicious national debuts — see, for example, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton’s droning speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention.
Where the Sanford story could be more fundamentally harmful to his political prospects is in what it suggests about his persona.
It’s one thing to be a millionaire who wears frayed slacks, as Sanford is known to do, but some veteran political strategists and observers believe this episode pushes him over the line between eccentricity and flat-out bizarre behavior.
“We’re talking about professional and personal issues of responsibility,” said longtime GOP ad man Alex Castellanos. “It’s not just that the governor of the state, charged with emergency management, disappears. But at the same time, on Father’s Day, he leaves his four kids and wife to go hiking and they don’t know where he is?”
Sanford is bumping up against a threshold in politics for what a state politician can get away with versus what voters will tolerate from presidential candidates.
As the political analyst Charlie Cook put it: “Governors can be quirky — presidents can’t be quirky.”
So it’s one thing, for example, for then-Gov. Jerry Brown to date the likes of rock star Linda Ronstadt and sleep on the floor of his apartment while governing California. But America wasn’t at the time — and probably still isn’t — ready for an ascetic bachelor in the White House.
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