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Where Do You Rank Sanford Now?

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford earned conservative applause earlier this year for refusing to accept federal stimulus funds since he opposed them in principle. Some even saw Sanford as a possible future GOP presidential hopeful though most of the mainstream media — and the South Carolina legislature that overrode him on the stimulus — saw him as just a conservative goofball.

Unfortunately for those searching for the next GOP star, that dim view of Sanford looks to be on the money after the governor disappeared for a week with his cell phone turned off. His office claimed he was off for a solo hike on the Appalachian Trail to clear his head after a stormy legislative session. Though some South Carolinians thought the post of governor was important enough that his whereabouts should never be a secret (not to mention little details such as who would be in charge of the National Guard in case of a disaster), others thought the idea of a leader going off to meditate in the midst of nature was great material for a future campaign. Indeed, campaign strategist Mark McKinnon, who has been keeping track of Republican presidential hopefuls for 2012 on the Daily Beast, thought the Appalachian retreat was a brilliant move by Sanford. Writing earlier this week, McKinnon described the walkabout as “Mark Sanford unplugged. Literally. He decided to take a hike. And he told his security detail to take a hike as well. Guy wanted some alone time in the woods to clear his head. Here we have a guy in politics who actually likes to get OUT of the spotlight. How exceedingly normal. … This is the sign of a healthy, sane individual.”

This was enough for McKinnon to move Sanford up on his list of 2012 Republican presidential contenders to fourth, leaving the South Carolinian trailing only Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and John Thune, even though such rankings are pretty meaningless at this stage.

But unfortunately for McKinnon’s ranking system, Sanford wasn’t making like St. Francis of Assisi communing with the birds, the beasts, and the flowers in God’s southern mountain garden. Nor was he channeling that scene in the classic film “Sergeant York,” where Gary Cooper sits on top of a mountain with his dog and a bible while he decides whether to fight for his country.

Instead, as the world now knows, Sanford spent the last few days “crying in Argentina” as he sorted out his affair with an unidentified Argentinian lady with whom he originally shared an interest in politics.

Let’s just say that those who looked to South Carolina for a plausible presidential candidate had been a bit optimistic. His self-indulgent performance at today’s press conference shows him to be an egotistical nitwit. I’ll say one thing about this sorry spectacle; at least we were spared the sight of his wife standing by his side as he humiliates her, in the manner of Elliot Spitzer and his aggrieved spouse. Good for Mrs. Sanford. As for where Mark Sanford goes from here, the only reasonable answer for South Carolinians and Republicans is that he should just go away.

But I am looking forward to Mark McKinnon’s next ranking of candidates. Let’s just say that Gov. Sanford ought to lose a few notches.