Another day, another moral majoritarian cheating on his wife, buying a reacharound in a public toilet, or exploring the beautiful synergy of crystal meth and gay hookers. When I heard about Senator John Ensign admitting to a lengthy affair with a staffer (who is also married) the only thing that surprised me was that after 10 years in the Senate John Ensign managed to get a headline. We've long since passed the point at which simple adultery from our elected officials is shocking. This Mark Sanford thing, though… It was bizarre. Fortean. Oddly reminiscent of the runaway bride (the person, not the horrible film). Of all the potential outcomes that came to mind when I heard that Gov. Sanford had gone AWOL, "He's in Argentina" was #1,057 on the list. But reality trumps plausability yet again.
From my point of view the real fallout of this whole bizarre episode is that Sanford's political career is over. Don't get me wrong, I think about as much of Mark Sanford as a politician as I do of Glenn Reynolds as a blogger, but he was one of the better, or at least less laughably bad, GOP contenders for 2012. Objectively he had a few things going for him. Popular Governor. Not a Washington insider. New, as opposed to recycled garbage like Gingrich and Haley Barbour. Not a bad looking guy. Good enough verbal skills to make himself sound like he's not retarded even though he is. I'll go as far as to say that he was the leading contender in a horrid GOP field, roughly akin to being the best player on the Washington Nationals.
In that light, the ramifications of this incident on the 2012 race are significant. The pool of Republicans who would make good candidates is empty and they're starting to run out of candidates who are even plausible. I know everyone hates it when I talk about elections too far in advance, but what in the hell is that party going to do in 2012? They might have a hard time scraping up enough candidates to make a competitive field let alone any good ones.
My position on the re-election of the current President hasn't changed and will not. If there is any measurable indication of economic recovery between January 20, 2009 and the onset of the 2012 Election (roughly 1/1/2012) then the race is going to be a 1984-style coronation. The Republicans could run Abraham Lincoln and it wouldn't matter. Obama took office and things sucked. If things do not suck (or suck less) when the next election rolls around the election could be a blowout like we haven't seen in 20+ years. If things get worse or stagnate, a good Republican could take him down.
Now. Find me a good Republican.
Palin is going to be the candidate if scenario #1 happens – with a rosy economy and no chance of beating Obama, the GOP will be more than happy to let some idiot waste her time and money running in a race she will lose by 200 Electoral Votes. She will be the nominee because no one else will be lining up to donate his or her body for that kind of beating. In the second scenario the Party will try a little harder to find a credible nominee. Jindal? Uh, first impressions went poorly. Also, his background has plenty of gossip fodder in it, what with the exorcisms and such. Tim Pawlenty is the only name making the rounds who seems reasonable on paper (Governor, "independent" cred, etc.) but he looks and sounds like a used car salesman. Obama would really have to be on the ropes to lose to a piece of white bread like Pawlenty. Charlie Crist? There's some potential there, but there's also that vicious "arranged marriage/in-closet" rumor. Mitch Daniels? Decent, but really dull. No one will get excited about that guy.
Other than that, we have the reruns like Gingrich, Huckabee (whose Fox show isn't helping, as he comes off like an infomercial host while interviewing "American Idol" contestants and the cast of "The Biggest Loser"), and Romney. Mittens might get the nod over Palin in a sacrificial lamb scenario, as he has more money to blow, but before picking any of these guys the GOP would be better off forfeiting the election and retaining some dignity.
It has been a long time – perhaps the 1996 GOP nomination or the 1988 Democratic field which settled on Michael "The Hindenburg" Dukakis by default – since I've seen a field this bad, bearing in mind that the 2008 GOP field was really bad. I guess that is the logical end result of a party that has been shrinking continuously for 25 years, a regional party which can't feasibly hope to win statewide offices outside of the former Confederacy or the southwestern Sun Belt. A shrinking party produces a shrinking pool of good candidates and, as we see in Sanford's case, the pool of candidates is shrinking itself as well.
(OK, should we just start the Jeb Bush betting pool now?)