Two down, one more may go
Yes, even though the ink is barely dry on the swearing in of Democrat Barack Obama as President, the jousting was under way for the Republican nomination to challenge his re-election in 2012.
Among candidates mentioned were U.S. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanders, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Scratch Ensign and Sanford.
Ensign on June 16 fessed up to an affair with a former staff member.
Ensign, who was chairman of the Republican Governors Association and often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, apologized to his family and staff and Nevada voters, saying in essence that he’d, uh, screwed up.
His confession to the public – he’d already told his wife a few months earlier -- came after Ensign came to believe the affair might become a news story. The woman’s husband, who also had been an Ensign staffer, was threatening to blow the whistle.
So Ensign, who had campaigned on family values, stymied that by blowing the whistle on himself. First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the large Republican class of 1994, Ensign was among those who had called for President Bill Clinton’s resignation after word of an affair with intern Monica Lewinsky prompted impeachment efforts.
Presumably it was something of a relief for Ensign, who had quickly resigned as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, when Sanford’s saga outdid his own.
Sanford, who was Missing In Action for a week, admitted on June 23 to an international affair. He’d told his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, but instead was visiting a paramour in Argentina.
An enterprising newspaper reporter surprised him in Atlanta, getting off a return flight from Buenos Aires. Sanford, who had been carrying on an international affair with the woman, earlier admitted it to his wife. She had flatly refused his request to return to Argentina to break off the affair. He snuck off anyway.
The confrontation by the reporter touched off a rambling press conference back in South Carolina. Sanford admitted the affair, calling it a matter of the heart (not to mention the flesh).
So Ensign was able to drop off the front pages, for the most part, although he warranted a paragraph or so in some of the stories about Sanford -- another member of the House class of ’94 who’d condemned Clinton.
And then, there’s Sarah Palin. The outspoken Alaska governor achieved national fame by her surprise selection as a running mate by 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain.
Without warning, she suddenly called a press conference July 3 at her home in Wasilla, and announced she’s quitting the governorship later this month.
While the presidential hopes of Ensign and Sanford are almost certainly history, Palin, who has become the darling of the Republican right, may still be a contender.
Speculation is that she is quitting to a) try to move her family out of the limelight; b) be free to travel the Lower 48 states at will, and make some presumably big bucks on the speaking circuit; c) write a book; and d) raise money for half a million dollars in legal bills incurred defending her from ethics charges.
Some wonder whether, due to the abruptly called, rambling press conference announcing she would quit -- most reporters couldn’t get there in time to cover it -- was because some other revelations might be about to break.
While some Republican consultants, like Mary Matalin, think resigning is a smart move and gives her both more flexibility and freedom, others think as far as the presidential race goes, it’s over. She’ll still have influence in the GOP, but how much beyond the far right of the party is the question.
Certainly, the fall from grace of public officials with lofty ambitions hasn’t been limited to Republicans.
Democrats were embarrassed and livid when the Democrats’ 2004 vice-presidential nominee and 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards admitted to an affair.
Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer resigned after his dalliances with prostitutes were revealed. The man who succeeded him, now-Gov. David Paterson, also admitted that he probably shouldn’t be drafted as a poster boy for marital fidelity.
The infidelity situation becomes a real problem when it involves hypocrisy, as with Ensign and Sanford, who ran on family values.
Which others interested in seeking high office will be thinned out by the powerful public microscope remains to be seen.