PR Nightmare: Mark Sanford

Well. We see quite a few PR nightmares come and go in this country. But the saga of Mark Sanford, erstwhile governor of South Carolina, is going to stick with us for a while. In fact, let’s preemptively award Gov. Sanford with the distinction of PR Nightmare of the Year.

Where to begin? How about the beginning.

The governor disappears nearly without a trace about a week ago. He doesn’t tell his staff where he’s going. He doesn’t tell his wife or his four sons where he’s going. He doesn’t tell the lieutenant governor or any other state government officials where he’s going. If he did, and any of them publicly pled ignorance, then they’re complicit in this disaster too.

His wife says he had to get away from those pesky kids to write something. His staff subsequently says he was hiking the Appalachian Trail to recharge after a tough legislative session. But no one can say definitively where he is. If an emergency were to happen, no one knows where the state’s chief executive is.

The truth is that he is not writing, nor is he hiking. He’s in Argentina, cheating on his wife with a woman with whom he’s been having an illicit e-mail relationship for years. An intrepid reporter confronts him at the Atlanta airport yesterday morning, returning from Buenos Aires, and he lies to her, saying he was alone, driving the “coast” of Argentina. He returns to the Palmetto State and holds a disgusting mea culpa press conference later that day with constituents smirking and snickering behind him, in awe. He doesn’t resign his office. Later in the day, embarrassing and sappy e-mails between Sanford and his Argentine lover emerge.

Now… just how big of a PR nightmare is this?

His PR guy, Joel Sawyer, looks like an uninformed idiot, of course. He came off like a sucker for a week, and I can’t imagine this stint will be the proudest item on his resume.

Just in case you think I'm being glib, here is the family that the governor abandoned for a week.

Just in case you think I'm being glib, here is the family that the governor abandoned for a week.

But more importantly, and quite impressively in a sense, Sanford managed to undermine nearly every element of his branding and messaging in one fell swoop.

Consider: Sanford is a small-government, conservative, family-values, “take responsibility for yourself,” “America first” Republican with presidential ambitions who cheated on his wife with a foreigner, walked away from his extremely important job without taking personal responsibility to get his work-related affairs in order, ditched his four sons on Father’s Day, and possibly used public money and property to travel to an airport and fly to a foreign country. Besides the fact that he didn’t seem to care if the government could function (many hardcore conservatives have been very upfront about how they would like to destroy many functions of government from the inside and transfer that power to the private sector), he spit in the face of every conservative ideal for which his wing of the Republican party stands.

Effectively, Sanford has not only embarrassed himself, his family and his state, not only has he completely undermined his PR team, but he has also delivered a huge blow to the national Republican party and the conservative movement in general with the latest and possibly greatest example of mindboggling hypocrisy that can very conveniently and effectively be used against it.

Who knew that Rod Blagojevich and Jim McGreevey could actually be eclipsed. Well maybe not, but it’s definitely a tight three-way competition now.

So…Bravo, Mark Sanford! P.S., you need to resign because you have no credibility. Probably should have consulted your PR guy before you left on your exotic romantic getaway.

Posted by Joe Paone

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