Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why the Sanford Thing Matters

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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Robert said...


Most of your points are well taken, but the Chandra Levy analogy goes way overboard. Chandra Levy was blown way out of proportion by the American media to the point that it blocked out much of the news in the summer of 2001.

In fact it took a very important story (9/11) to knock it off the front pages. I still think it diverted the nation's attention from some very important news stories, such as the Bush White House malaise that summer, particularly with regard to the Middle East, and the UN World Conference on Racism in Durban which we boycotted because of the movement to equate Zionism and racism. http://www.unhchr.ch/html/racism/01-paraevents.html
Look closely at the dates of the conference.

Josh Putnam said...

Definitely Rob. That was an exaggeration for effect. Nothing more. You'd be hard-pressed to find an example of media coverage that went as overboard as the Levy thing that summer.

Here are those links from Rob:


UN World Conference

Jack said...

Okay, now he says he was in Argentina? This is getting stranger every day.

Maybe Obama will make him Ambassador to Argentina.

Josh Putnam said...

I'll lean on my Twitter comment as a response to this.

Strange indeed.

Jack said...

Watching the press conference now, but this is interesting.

Josh Putnam said...

That IS interesting.

...so is this press conference. Wow!

Jack said...

Did he think he could go to Argentina and no one would notice? Really? And I know I'm stating the obvious, it certainly looks bad for the Christian conservative wing of the party to have two of these affairs come out within eight days of each other, although Sanford is probably more notable for his extreme fiscal conservatism.

Josh Putnam said...

Thinking? He wasn't thinking. And I don't say that in a "Boy, was he dumb" sort of way. I just think all this caught up with him. Life has a way of doing that.

...and then the press came in.

Jack said...

So you're right! It was indeed one of Obama's evil machinations. He came up with this whole economic stimulus package to stress out Sanford and cause him to commit a very foolish act. In this way he ruthlessly eliminated yet another political opponent.

Robert said...

Who is next on BHO's search and destroy list?

Jack said...

I'd say Huckabee, but really, who has the heart to destroy Huckabee? Newt's too wily for Obama to risk taking on just yet. Barack's pretty unpredictable, so maybe it'll be some no-name like John Thune — a double victory as not only does it eliminate a presidential contender but also possibly paves the way for Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to run for Senate instead of governor.

But my money's on Mitt.

Robert said...

Willard? Maybe it is him who is knocking off all these rivals.

Jack said...

Could be. Thinking about it, I don't think Obama would want to knock off Sanford. He'd be an awful general election candidate. A guy who, in the House, was frequently one of two 'nay' votes along with Ron Paul? A guy who turned down stimulus money in his impoverished state that would have gone to badly needed services? Like the Congressman from Lake Jackson, Texas, Sanford pushes fiscal conservatism to an extreme deeply unsettling to most Americans (Goldwater on Social Security comes to mind). Even Reagan had to make some concessions in this regard.

Josh Putnam said...

Honestly, I think it's me. I really liked Huntsman as a darkhorse.

Then I liked Ensign's chances.

And then for a fleeting moment, I turned to Sanford.

[He wishes I hadn't.]

But I've got to say, I really like Haley Barbour now. Sorry Haley.

Jack said...

Don't count Sanford out. By at least one metric, this should actually help his campaign.

Also, I just realized I linked back to the blog with my previous "this is interesting" link. I admit to having a strange sense of humor, but this wasn't deliberate: I was actually attempting to link to this or a similar article.

Josh Putnam said...

You know, Jack, I was all ready to do a screenshot of the tracker with Sanford in there this afternoon with that very same comment. But there is a lag of some kind and the last few days aren't in there yet.

The Ensign bump IS up but it is dwarfed by the Palin/Letterman bump. Will Sanford reach those heights? We'll see.

I'll post that Ensign screenshot in a bit when I finish the post I'm currently working on.

Oh, and thanks for that "right" link. I wasn't going to call you out, but I didn't think it was strange.