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Political Fallout Of Sanford Admission Examined

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Governor Sanford's announcement was carried live on cable channels and likely brought him far wider fame than he's enjoyed up to now, but in political circles Sanford was well-known as a strong conservative on social and economic issues, and as we've heard, he was considered a potential presidential contender in 2012.

Joining us to discuss the implications of today's revelation is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, what's next for Mark Sanford?

RON ELVING: The first question is whether he remains governor of South Carolina. Today he stopped short of answering that question. He did resign as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, but that's a sideline. If he wants the privacy and time to heal that he says he wants, he's probably going to have to leave the governorship to have a little bit of either.

SIEGEL: And as for his national ambitions, you can forget about that now, you think?

ELVING: It seems that would be gone. He is joining a long list of other people whose personal lives did not survive the scrutiny that comes with any show of national ambition. This is a guy who's an Eagle Scout. He's had a reputation as a straight shooter. He was much admired among conservatives, partly for refusing $700 million in stimulus funds from the federal government this spring, but all the way back to the '90s, he was one of the 1994 Gingrich revolution babies. He said he would only serve three terms. He served his three and he left and he went back to South Carolina.

So he has had a lot of admirers. He was the favorite among social conservatives, as well, with all those great-looking family pictures and so forth. There's going to be a big disappointment factor.

SIEGEL: Yeah, there's a great contrast here between the image of perfection that Governor Sanford had projected and his admission of fall from grace today. That would compound his problems with at least the impression of great hypocrisy.

ELVING: That's right. Hypocrisy is always the word that comes up. People say it's not what he did, it was the way he lied about her, the way he concealed it. And the real problem, of course, is the thing that he did. And the real problem is he had to go out of the state under these clouded circumstances, shrouded circumstances, lying about where he was. And this was true with Governor Spitzer in New York about a year ago - a man who had prosecuted prostitution rings got caught up in a prostitution ring.

SIEGEL: And their clients, especially.

ELVING: And there we have it. And Senator John Ensign earlier this month out in Nevada, you know, having been a big paragon of family values.

SIEGEL: Now, you mentioned John Ensign, who was also, at least on the long list of Republicans, talked about for a national office in 2012. Is the Republican Party seeing that list of upcoming stars getting shorter?

ELVING: Yes, although there's certainly lots of time to add new names to that list, and we're still going to see active campaigns from a lot of the people whose names we know. Tim Pawlenty is not running for another term as governor in Minnesota, but I think he's still interested in national office. Bobby Jindal, although he had an unfortunate introduction to the national scene in his response to the President's State of the Union earlier this year, I think we'll still hear from him. Sarah Palin, certainly. While she's been controversial, her numbers among Republicans are still sky high.

SIEGEL: Very high approval ratings, right.

ELVING: Among the people who will be choosing the next nominee. But the guy I'd have to say is really doing the best among the Republicans right now is the one who's been staying out of the limelight, and that's former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

SIEGEL: And who has a very strong image of being a very, very straight arrow in his personal life.

ELVING: A straight arrow and a guy who got an overhaul of the health care system done in the state of Massachusetts.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Ron Elving. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.