Today, if Sanford’s remembered for anything, it’s for disappearing for 6 days in 2009. Sanford was governor of South Carolina at the time. His aides said that the governor was “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” It turned out that he was actually in South America, visiting a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. Sanford did manage to survive an impeachment attempt but, at the time, it was assumed that his political career was over.
In 2013, Sanford proved the naysayers wrong by winning a seat in the U.S. House. (He had also previously served in the House before running for governor.) Sanford’s race got a good deal of national attention because he was running against Stephen Colbert’s sister. In hindsight, Sanford’s easy victory, despite his personal baggage and an overhyped opponent, was a precursor to the eventual election of Donald Trump.
Speaking of Trump, Sanford was an outspoken critic of the President’s travel ban. That led to Sanford losing his primary in 2018. Again, it seemed like his political career was over and again, Sanford is considering attempting a comeback.
Before he went off to South America, Mark Sanford was someone who was frequently mentioned as being a future president. If not for the scandal, Sanford probably would have run in 2012 or 2016. Challenging an incumbent President is almost always a fool’s errand. Ronald Reagan came close to denying the nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976 and then he went on to become President himself but he’s the exception to the rule. A more typical example is Ted Kennedy, who was seen as being a real threat to Jimmy Carter in 1980 but whose bumbling campaign destroyed his future presidential prospects.
If Sanford does run, he’ll be joining former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld in challenging Trump. The last time that a Republican incumbent was challenged by two “credible” candidates was in 1972, when Pete McCloskey challenged Nixon from the left while John Ashbrook challenged him from the right. Nixon easily swatted away both challengers and, despite many perceived weaknesses, went on to win in a record-setting landslide. Why did Nixon win? It wasn’t because Nixon was a popular President. Instead, by nominating George McGovern, the Democrats went so far to the Left that they alienated the traditional members of their base.
It’s starting to feel like 1972 all over again.