As tensions between the conservative base and the Republican establishment have intensified over the years, various conservatives have speculated how to “win by losing,” that is, to willingly take short-term Republican defeats in the hopes they would force the party to learn from failure, resulting in deeper long-term victories.
This is usually a risky proposition, partly because of the lasting damage Democrats in power can do and partly because much of the GOP is too dense to take the right lessons from failure anyway, but this month, the special election for South Carolina’s 1st District House seat provided an ideal opportunity for Republicans to win far more than they’d sacrifice. And they blew it.
Disgraced former governor Mark Sanford won a decisive victory against Democrat challenger Elizabeth Colbert Busch, but while he will probably be a fairly reliable conservative vote, the Democrats’ propaganda efforts stand to gain much more.
“Extramarital affair” only begins to describe the Sanford spectacle. He mysteriously ditched the governorship for a week, made up a cover story about hiking, turned out to be rendezvousing with a mistress in Argentina, and then, in awkwardly-detailed press statements and interviews, he seemed to cast himself as the lead in a romance novel, announcing he could die knowing he’d found his “soul mate,” who happened to be someone other than his wife.
Since then, he’s been accused by his ex-wife of repeatedly trespassing at her home, asked her to be his House campaign’s pro-bono manager, compared himself to Lazarus and his political aspirations to the Alamo, gotten engaged to his mistress, and brought her onstage on the eve of his primary win—without consulting his sons in attendance, who hadn’t even met her before and were reportedly upset by the incident.