B y Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
As the plot around South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's mysterious weeklong absence thickens—it turns out he was not hiking the Appalachian Trail, as his staff claimed, but he says he was vacationing alone in Buenos Aires—it will be interesting to see how the Christian right reacts. The movement's leaders were so keen on Sanford during the 2008 presidential cycle—and so unenthusiastic about the rest of the Republican field—that they tried to draft him to run for the White House.
A 2007 New York Times article broke the story on the draft-Sanford movement:
A group of influential Christian conservatives and their allies emerged from a private meeting at a Florida resort this month dissatisfied with the Republican presidential field and uncertain where to turn.
The event was a meeting of the Council for National Policy, a secretive club whose few hundred members include Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Liberty University and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Although little known outside the conservative movement, the council has become a pivotal stop for Republican presidential primary hopefuls, including George W. Bush on the eve of his 1999 primary campaign.
But in a stark shift from the group's influence under President Bush, the group risks relegation to the margins. Many of the conservatives who attended the event, held at the beginning of the month at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island, Fla., said they were dismayed at the absence of a champion to carry their banner in the next election.
.... In a measure of their dissatisfaction, a delegation of prominent conservatives at Amelia Island tried to enlist as a candidate Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a guest speaker at the event. A charismatic politician with a clear conservative record, Mr. Sanford is almost unknown outside his home state and has done nothing to prepare for a presidential run. He firmly declined the group's entreaties, people involved in the recruiting effort said. A spokesman for Mr. Sanford said he would not comment.
Can the family values crowd support a politician who disappears for a week without telling his wife and four sons where he's headed—and on Father's Day weekend, no less? Will the Sanford flap bring yet more disillusionment for the GOP's religious allies?