Milbank: Mark Sanford's comedy of errors
WASHINGTON In a congressional campaign ad released Wednesday, Mark Sanford, R-Appalachian Trail, looks soberly into the camera and makes his closing plea before Tuesday's vote.
"Nancy Pelosi and allies have spent more than a million dollars to defeat me," he complains.
He is right. It is outrageous that Democrats would engage in such reckless and irresponsible spending to defeat him. Sanford was perfectly capable of defeating himself.
Recall what the disgraced former governor of South Carolina has done since winning the Republican primary in late March in an attempt to reclaim his old House seat:
He had one of his young sons meet his Argentine mistress (now his fiancee) for the first time onstage at his victory celebration.
He admitted to trespassing at his ex-wife's house.
He stood on a city street and pretended to debate a life-size cardboard cutout of Pelosi.
He took out a newspaper ad providing his cellphone number to voters and likening his campaign to the fight for the Alamo, getting the date of that great struggle wrong by 27 years.
In the process, Sanford's zaniness caused the National Republican Congressional Committee to abandon him and cut off funding for his comeback campaign. On the positive side, he did pick up the endorsement of pornographer Larry Flynt. (South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who removed references to Sanford from her campaign Web site during his scandal, took pity on the candidate and agreed to appear with him at a private fundraiser Wednesday evening.)
Sanford is now poised to accomplish what was seemingly impossible: hand the seat to Democrats for the first time since 1978, when they still had a foothold in the South.
Sanford's opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, has been aided by her brother, comedian Stephen Colbert, who has helped with fundraising. In this there is a cruel irony: The "Comedy Central" personality is helping to keep from Congress a man who would be an endless source of comedy. Not since Anthony Weiner sheathed his camera phone has a public figure exhibited such poor public judgment as Sanford has over the past five weeks.
Sanford's name recognition and his pleas for forgiveness were enough to get him through a crowded Republican primary. But polls suggest difficulty for him in the special election Tuesday to fill the vacancy created when Rep. Tim Scott was named to Jim DeMint's Senate seat.
Democrats and Democrat-friendly super PACs have been pouring money into ads reminding voters of Sanford's 2009 disappearance, when the then-governor was thought to be hiking the Appalachian Trail but was actually in Argentina with his paramour; his tearful news conference acknowledging the affair and his subsequent divorce were national news.
In a debate Monday, Colbert Busch picked up the theme. "When we talk about fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers," she said, "it doesn't mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose."
Sanford's reply: "I couldn't hear what she said."
That response was only slightly better than Sanford's response a couple of weeks earlier to news that his ex-wife had filed a complaint that he had violated their divorce agreement by entering her home without permission. "I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father I didn't think he should watch it alone," Sanford said in a statement. "Given she was out of town I tried to reach her beforehand to tell her of the situation that had arisen, and met her at the back steps under the light of my cellphone when she returned."
Sanford repeated that unusual explanation in a full-page ad he bought in the Charleston Post and Courier the next week. At the end of the lengthy "personal message," he concluded:
"In March of 1863" 1836, actually, but stay with him "there was similarly very little time. A South Carolinian by the name of William Travis drew a line in the sand with his sword and simply asked those who would stay and fight, to cross it." Sanford went on to say that, although he is outnumbered just as the men of the Alamo were, "I'd ask you to cross the line and fight with me."
Cross the line? Sanford evidently forgot that was the same phrase he used when he admitted to his extramarital relations. It's one more reason why South Carolinians, asked to cross the line with Sanford on Tuesday, are likely to tell him to take a hike.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.