The patient has been ill for a long time, having contracted the political power virus from the Republican Party. On Tuesday, May 7, the last breath of the Christian right was exhaled as former Gov. Mark Sanford waltzed onto a stage and patted himself on the back for a political comeback.
The day before, Christian conservative leader Foster Friess had sent out an email urging conservatives in South Carolina to “forgive” Sanford for his transgressions and to vote for him. The email urged conservatives across the nation to ask their friends in South Carolina to vote for Sanford as well.
Although the establishment National Republican Congressional Committee abandoned Sanford after he violated a court order this year and entered the home of his ex-wife in the middle of the night, the “true” conservatives stuck with him. After he secured the nomination, social conservatives, including many of my good friends in Washington, D.C., halted any and all criticism of him. He received a free pass from virtually all of the Christian right so far as I can tell – except from me. My PAC – Government Is Not God – continued to expose him as threat to good government. But other social conservative leaders viewed the election of his opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Steven Colbert, as the greater of two evils.
The problem of backing, tacitly or not, the disgraced governor has to do just not only with his mistress and divorce, but with the rule of law. When the commander of a military unit abandons his post, should he be rewarded or court martialed? Sanford was the commander in chief of the state of South Carolina, including the National Guard, and he abandoned his post as commander for a hookup in Argentina. Why no one on the conservative side sees a problem with this, other than a very few, is sort of baffling.
Sanford disappeared for several days in 2009 to fly to Argentina to meet in person with Maria Belen Chapur, whom he had met online. He lied about his whereabouts to his office and to the public as well as to his family. He was completely out of contact for days without transferring power to the lieutenant governor. In the event of a disaster, natural or otherwise, he would not have been available to activate the National Guard or direct assets of the state. Put plainly he deserted his post as commander. He also used a state-owned aircraft, meaning taxpayers financed his “personal time” in Argentina. Eventually he was censured by South Carolina’s Ethics Commission and forced to repay the cost of using the jet.
It is bothersome that many social conservatives, such as Foster Friess, not only ignored Sanford’s unfaithfulness to his wife, the lies to his children and the public, but his misuse of the public trust as well.
By backing Mark Sanford, or by saying nothing to stop his re-ascendancy, the social conservative leaders of the Christian right have declared that they are Republicans first and moral leaders maybe second, third or fourth. If social conservative leaders can ignore the transgressions of Mark Sanford, who is currently shacked up with his mistress, what else will they ignore in support of the GOP?
In the more than 30 years I have worked around Capitol Hill, I have watched the political power virus take down many good men or women. That photo with a senator or maybe even a president becomes worth taking off the garment of righteousness and hanging it at the door to the seat of power. Once that garment is taken off, it is very hard to put back on.
Who will listen now to the purveyors of righteousness in the Christian conservative lobby of Capitol Hill, when they come forward in future primaries to anoint the most “moral” candidate? It is now known that after any primary they will all “hold their noses” and jump on board the Republican bandwagon. With that knowledge, what difference does it make if the establishment backs someone who is openly homosexual, smokes dope, has two wives or has previously abused the power of office?
On May 7, social conservative leaders sent a clear message to the GOP establishment, the Democrats and to the media that their belief structure is infected so badly by politics that morals no longer matter.
R.I.P., Christian right.