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South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford

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Dan Balz's TakeThe Fallout from Sanford's South American AdventureBy Dan Balz South Carolina Gov.

Mark Sanford's South American getaway may be every chief executive's dream -- ditching security, escaping the bubble and wandering through a foreign country like any regular tourist.

President Obama, who complains regularly about the bubble, may be secretly admiring Sanford's escapade.But for Sanford, the summer adventure to Argentina -- no, he was not on the Appalachian Trail as his aides incorrectly told reporters -- is now a major personal embarrassment and there is no doubt far more to this story than anyone has heard so far.

For a Republican Party down on its luck, Sanford's draws more unwelcome publicity to a party that needs but can't seem to get any good news.The enterprising State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., cracked the case of Sanford's whereabouts by staking out the Atlanta airport, where one of the paper's reporters found the absent governor upon his return to the United States.

After days of misinformation, the real story of his whereabouts may be out, though there will be numerous questions he'll now have to answer."I wanted to do something exotic," he said in explaining how he, supposedly, at the last minute, decided to head to South America to recharge after a grueling legislative session in which he lost a major battle with lawmakers, who forced him to accept money from Obama's economic stimulus package that he wanted used to pay down debt.Sanford told the State newspaper he's done this before, taking trips to Greece and Turkey, with friends or solo, as a way to clear his head and chill out.

So, it was merely an exotic getaway.

How nice.

His office has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday afternoon.

Whether the full story emerges then remains to be seen.Put aside what Sanford's wife and family knew -- his wife claimed she did not know where he was but was not worried about him -- as that is a between husband and wife.

Whatever his wife knew, it was a serious mistake in judgment for the leader of the state to simply drop out of sight for nearly a week.It is also a major problem that he suggested to his staff that he planned to hike the Appalachian Trail while on his unreported absence, rather than telling them the truth.

And it was a serious oversight on his -- and his staff's -- part not to inform other relevant state officials that he was away.

Even worse, no one had accurate information about the governor's absence when questions arose.Sanford is a bright and independent-minded politician, which is one reason he has been touted by some Republicans as a possible presidential candidate in 2012 -- or at least has been until this week.

He endeared himself to conservatives by being one of a handful of Republican governors to object to Obama's stimulus and resist accepting all of the money.

But he has not been a consensus builder and, say those who know, has left his party in turmoil in South Carolina with the way he has governed.Sanford has a penchant for speaking candidly and openly about problems facing his state and the country.

Upon his arrival Wednesday morning, he expressed surprise that so much has been made of his absence, and that may be an honest expression of his personal views.

But as the governor of a state, he certainly knows better than to ask why this became a story.

The blogs and comics already were having a field day.No one knows what this episode ultimately means for Sanford's future, although it's difficult to envision a good outcome for him politically.

Perhaps he never really harbored serious thoughts of running for president.

But if he did, he's taken a significant step backwards with his desire to satisfy his wanderlust after a difficult battle with the legislature.Presidential campaigns test more than a politician's knowledge of issues or familiarity with the world or political acuity.

They reveal character and personality and, perhaps above all, judgment and dependability.

Sanford's trip brings all that into question.

A politician who does what Sanford just did isn't likely to make it through the rigors of a long presidential campaign without voters wondering whether he is reliable enough and trustworthy enough to lead their party or the country.For Republicans, the long winter and spring continues.

The embarrassments keep coming, as one after another of the GOP bright prospects has stumbled.

Sanford's troubles come a week after another nascent 2012 prospect, Nevada Sen.

John Ensign, confessed to an extramarital affair with a staffer who was married to another Ensign staffer.Others mentioned as possible 2012 candidates have had other difficulties.

Alaska Gov.

Sarah Palin, still one of the most charismatic politicians in her party, has raised questions among GOP officials about her reliability and political sensibilities.

Louisiana Gov.

Bobby Jindal, one of the brightest young minds in the party, took on water with his performance in delivering the Republican response to Obama's joint session speech to Congress last winter.Some prospective younger leaders of the party have simply stepped aside.

Utah Gov.

Jon Huntsman chose to accept Obama's offer to become U.S.

ambassador to China rather than help guide his party to a brighter future -- although he has plenty of time after that assignment to do so, should he choose.Republicans have been trying to develop a more effective response to Obama and the Democrats, but polls show they have made little progress since the election.

The latest Post-ABC News survey found Republicans lower in favorability than at any point since the early 1990s.Every step forward has been matched by an embarrassment that has slowed the Republican recovery.

Sanford's exotic getaway is the latest, a personal problem that he must still explain to the voters of his state, and another setback for the beleaguered GOP.

Posted at 12:59 PM ET on Jun 24, 2009 �|�Category:� Dan Balz's TakeShare This: Technorati | Tag in Del.icio.us | Digg This Previous: An ABC Day at the White House | Add 44 to Your SiteBe the first to know when there's a new installment of The Trail.

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The governor was probably whoring it up in Argentina.

Typical Republican behavior.

Posted by: dsrobins | June 24, 2009 1:32 PM Staunch conservatives know and share the need for a little "down time" to dally and diddle.

"Do as I say, not as I do," is the time-honored motto.

The sight of Patagonian penguins and seals, frolicking on a winter beach, clears the mind and vanquishes notions of "global warming." Sanford brought back a stuffed souvenir to prove his story.

Squeeze it and it gurgles, "Ha, ha, ha."Nosey skeptics will have a hard time finding any paper receipts to prove naughty deeds.

The Bed and Breakfast was just that, or so the sign said.

Cristina Kirchner assured discretion.

She knows the ropes.

The proceeds of the sale of property foreclosed by SC were net of a commission to a firm which paid a consultancy fee to an Anguila account, which transferred funds to a Cayman account, which paid to a Zurich account belonging to a Chilly Willy fund, managed by a lifelong friend of Nestor and Cristina.

Woodward and Bernstein, in their prime, might have picked up the scent, but both those dogs are now old, and times have changed.Sanford remains on the short list of model GOP candidates for 2012.

He could share the ticket with Ensign, Newt, or Larry Craig.

Conservatives can forgive one of their own, who sins merely in the flesh; but not a lie-bruhl whose very soul is lost to such evil notions as public health insurance.Posted by: jkoch2 | June 24, 2009 1:31 PM Where's JakeD to rationalize this one away?Posted by: Nosy_Parker | June 24, 2009 1:31 PM Is the story of South America even believeable?If so, I'd have to rate Sanford ahead of Dick Cheney.

This assumes Sanford's absence wasn't taxpayer funded.But, being ahead of Cheney isn't saying much, now, is it?Posted by: Spectator | June 24, 2009 1:30 PM One can only wonder if his wife will demand a STD/HIV test.Posted by: hadenuff1 | June 24, 2009 1:29 PM Sanford is a loon and he is indicative of the voting populace of SC.

Sanford's initial refusal of the federal education funds shows he has no common or political sense.

SC has the worst schools of all the states because "whitey" sends their kids to "private" schools and under funds the public schools.

The result is people graduating from public high school, maybe, and reading at a 4th grade level.Sanford, and his state, have made me ill, since the first time I was there in the 1960's.Posted by: mortified469 | June 24, 2009 1:27 PM Mark Sanford, oh why did you wander? Your aides said you're hiking out yonder.

If you just can't be seen With a young Argentine At least you could pack a transponder.News Short n' Sweet by JFD8http://twitter.com/JFD8Posted by: jd121 | June 24, 2009 1:26 PM First of all I think it a bit overblown that a governor, while the legislature is in recess can't disappear.

Short of an industrial or natural disaster he or she really isn't that necessary.

And during a disaster they aren't necessary for any reason other than the survival of their political career.

I mean the lt.

governor, or probably his or her secretary, can sign whatever decrees are necessary to release emergency money.

Exactly when has the governor been necessary in your life?Second why should Jon Huntsman care about the Republican party? I'm sure he is under no illusion that a mormon will not win a Republican primary in any state with a sizable evangelical population.

That makes it nearly impossible for him to win the Republican nomination.

Much better to take an important foreign policy posting in a Democratic administration.

He has executive experience (gov of Utah), he will have foreign policy experience and he comes from a Western state, states the Democrats need to keep the White House.

Sounds like a perfect resume for a Democratic nominee for President.Posted by: caribis | June 24, 2009 1:26 PM This story was handled so ridiculously badly by Sanford and his staff, I can only assume it was hastily contrived to cover up something even more damaging.

The GOP is looking more and more like the Keystone Kops.Posted by: bpai_99 | June 24, 2009 1:22 PM Poor Gov.

Sanford...one less Republican opportunist who wanted to deny their constituents much needed Stimulus Money in order to placate the far right in their bid for the 2012 Presidential election.Posted by: logcabin1836 | June 24, 2009 1:21 PM Bill Clinton must be laughing his patootie off.Posted by: nicekid | June 24, 2009 1:20 PM Post a CommentWe encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

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