This whole Mark Sanford has been over-hyped to some degree. The disappearance is fine (Well, not when called a disappearance. How about trip?), but the communication is what has been completely botched. Ideally things would have gone like this:
1) Sanford's Press Office: "Yes, the governor likes to take some time off at the end of tough legislative sessions and has decided to hike some of the Appalachian Trail this year. We have not been in contact with him, but he is scheduled to return on Wednesday. We have a plan in place in the event that an emergency should arise."
2) Sanford's wife: "Oh, Mark likes to clear his head from time to time, especially after such a contentious session with the legislature. We talked and I told him to take advantage of the time over this fathers day weekend for that prupose. It's his day after all."
But it hasn't played out like that.
The press team has constantly updated its story making it appear as if there is something to cover up -- whether there is or isn't -- and his wife's not knowing his whereabouts is completely beyond me. I don't mean she needs to have him tagged and can track him with GPS. But she should at least be able to say, "Mark's hiking and will be back in a few days."
The communication network has broken down at so many points that it makes the situation appear much, much worse than I'm sure it actually is.
But this is politics. Perceptions matter and can cement very quickly. For example...
McCain is a Maverick. (2000)
McCain is erratic. (2008)
Kerry is a flip-flopper.
Is "Sanford is flaky" next? We'll see. The thing that we talked about some here at FHQ last fall is this idea of a narrative. If you can construct a simple narrative for your opponent and continually shoe-horn all or most of his or her actions into that narrative, you'll be in good shape.
Kerry is a flip-flopper was an easy one. The Massachusetts' senator's time in that body and his own penchant for sticking his foot in his mouth made the Bush reelection effort much easier. It wasn't necessarily the deciding factor, but there's no denying the fact that it was part of the reason.
Well, how about McCain is erratic? That, too, was an easy one. McCain's position in the race -- the underdog -- forced the Arizona senator to make some decisions that may have been different if he was ahead in the polls and not behind Obama. Once the "erratic" narrative emerged, it was simple to place the Palin as VP selection or his suspension of his campaign due to the economic crisis or his call to postpone the debates into that "erratic" box.
So no, this Sanford episode, if you want to call it that, is silly in the grand scheme of things. It is is summer news fare (as RedState rightly points out). It's Chandra Levy. It's shark attacks. But it does matter in that this is an event from which the sort of narrative alluded to above can emerge. And if Sanford seeks to run for another and/or higher office, his opponents will likely take a second look at whether this "flaky" narrative has legs.
Of course, candidate response factors into this as well and we've yet to hear from the governor himself for his version of what happened.
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