Comeback Candidate: Sanford or Spitzer?

AKIE BERMISS: Last week Molly posed the question: Spitzer or Sanford: which of the two will be able to turn around and comeback to politics first?  I’m no campaign strategist, but I think it comes down to simple question of efficacy, marketability, and boundaries.  While both are disgraced candidates, I think there is disgrace and there is disgrace.  In the one instance, its embarrassing, pathetic, and kind of unexpected.  And you resign — because you still have some semblance of propriety.

In the other instance, you negate everything that you stand for several times over.  You embarrass not only yourself but your family, friends, and those who work for and with you.  You don’t even have the good grace to fess up at first.  And then, despite being disgraced, you don’t even have the class to step down from your job.

To me, those are two different kinds of disgrace.  One takes you out of the game for a couple of seasons.  The other takes you off the team for good.

Eliot Spitzer is gross.  He was always a bit awkward, cold, and unlovable.  Too geeky, ungainly, and earnest.  And yes, he was always a bit slimy.  But I’ll tell you what: that works in New York! We’re a big state and we don’t really care much for wholesomeness or great looks or things of that nature.  Are you driven? Are you competent? Can you keep up?  Then welcome to the big leagues, kid.  Sptizer became Governor because when he was Attorney General he kicked serious butt.  He didn’t win any friends doing it, he didn’t make it seem sexy or noble — he just did it better than anyone had in a good long while.  In New York, that’s what we care about.  And that’s what we put forth.  Do we care that Hilary moved here like six months before running for Senator — hell no!  She showed up.  She met the criteria.  We put her in office.  End of story.

And so Spitzer’s fall from grace is sort of removed from his professional record.  We’d all had a somewhat strange feeling about the guy — but we didn’t think he was an axe-murderer.  Well, it turned out he paid for sex.  That’s not really a big deal to me.  I mean, I personally wouldn’t pay for sex.  I find the concept of prostitution abhorrent.  But I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority.  Everyone talks a good game against prostitution, but I am willing to bet the industry is still very robust even in these lean times.  So Spitzer got caught with his pants down, so to speak — and he quit.  And he was disgraced.  And it was funny and sad and gross.  And then, it was over.

Mark Sanford, on the other hand, comes from a place where the primary selling points for a politician are wholesomeness, and great looks, and honesty, and family.  Those are the pillars of the Republican party (minus the good looks, if you ask me).  A guy like Spitzer would never had made in South Carolina politics.  Efficient and successful as he was as a litigator, he just doesn’t have the face for executive work down there.  Sandford’s got a wife and a ton of kids and he’s well dressed and very groomed.  He looks like the Republican wet-dream of a leader.

So when he disappeared for a week and didn’t tell his staff or his family where he was headed, it was pretty darned suspicious.  When he eventually returned to say that he was “hiking up the Appalachian trail” it was believable, if a bit weird.  But when it finally came out that he’d been flying to Argentina to maintain an illicit affair with another woman.  That he was going to such enormous lengths to philander.  When it became known that he thought of it not only as an extra-marital affair, but true love — well the house came crashing down.  Sanford was supposed to be a golden boy.  Not some depraved adulterer who was wasting tax-payer time and money to go fulfill his South American torrid lover fantasies.

And for a guy who put all that family values, sanctity of marriage, and integrity of character BS front and center in his campaigning, it lead to an over net diminishing of his person.  Who is Sanford, if he is the opposite of a good dad and father and honest man?  He is practically the opposite of himself.  He is his own nemesis.  And there is no coming back from that.

What it all boils down to is Professional Wrestling.  When I was a kid, I used to watch Pro Wrestling every weekend.  I loved it.  There were good guys and there were bad guys.  And there were a lot of morally ambiguous characters who sort of swapped allegiances constantly.  And that was the normal course of events.  Of course, every once in a while there’d be a big sea change.  Every once in a while (when a pay-per-view event was coming up) they’d do something drastic.  And a good guy would do something terribly, terribly wrong.  He’d steal his best friend’s girlfriend, he’s take money for favors, or he’d betray his team for his own personal goals.  And: just like that!  They were a bad guy.  It so incredibly easy to fall from grace.  Still, you always knew, if you kept watching, kept waiting, and didn’t give up hope… that good guy would return to the fold.  Maybe he’d be a little worse for the wear, but you knew that despite having done bad things, he wasn’t a bad guy.

And the crucible for that reversion back to the good guys was always some act of grace.  Some show of character.  It was a moment when the moral dilemma came to a boiling point and when a former best-friend was in need — that’s bad guy would come to his rescue.  He would stop that final blow.  He would help his friend up, and they would clothesline the real bad guy over the rope.

And then the credits would roll.  And despite seeing nothing more, you always knew that next week — he’d be a good guy again.  Spitzer can still make that save.  Sanford?  Not so much.  He will forever be one of the lesser characters, jumping from alliance to alliance in hopes of — at the very, very least — self-preservation.

But not triumph.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Intuitively, I’d think Akie is correct. However… this poll, which has Mark Sanford’s approval rating at 55 percent in South Carolina, and Sanford’s refusal to rule out a return to politics, provides the latest example of social conservatives accepting “Do as I say, not as I do” from their leaders.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the epic struggles Senator David Vitter, he of the many prostitutes, is having in winning re-election. Oh, wait, did I say epic struggles? I meant cakewalk.

To Charlie Melancon’s credit, he isn’t shying away from raising the issue- though it is strange that he waited so long to do so. But if you see Vitter re-elected, don’t be shocked to see Sanford take it as a sign he should jump back in the water.

Meanwhile, Mr. Spitzer is neither popular (against David Paterson, at the height of Paterson’s follies, he received a scant 51% against him) nor particularly telegenic (note the audience of Parker/Spitzer). He also would be running in a state with the New York Post, so any attempt to move beyond the prostitute scandal would be largely moot.

My money’s on Sanford returning first. He probably looks at Vitter and simply wonders why he quit to begin with.

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