Mark Sanford’s road to redemption

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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This year, South Carolina will have a governor, two senators, and seven U.S. House members running for re-election. Most of them will face primary or general election opponents.

Mark Sanford won’t.

The USA Today headline said it best: “Once disgraced, Mark Sanford is now unopposed.” Less than a year ago, the headlines about Sanford looked very different: “GOP now bearish on Sanford’s chances in S.C.”

Eighteen days later, Sanford won a special election to return to Congress, winning 54 percent of the vote. The Democrats had spent some $2.6 million to elect Stephen Colbert’s sister instead. Come November, they won’t even have a candidate on the ballot.

“Lazarus raised,” writes Slate‘s Dave Weigel.

Until recently, the most common biblical allusion made to Sanford was his violation of the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” As governor of South Carolina, Sanford disappeared from the state for an alleged hike along the Appalachian trail that turned out to be a clandestine trip down lover’s lane.

Sanford’s marriage and governorship were ruined. So, it was thought, were his reputation and political career.

Then the South Carolina Republican made a novel argument: “I absolutely failed in my personal life and my marriage but one place I never did fail was with the taxpayers.”

Nonsense, replied his critics. Those trips to see his mistress (now fiancee), including at least his fateful sojourn to Argentina, were on the taxpayers’ dime. But the voters of South Carolina’s first congressional district decided that he fought to spare them far greater expenses, like the $831 billion federal stimulus package and state budgets — often backed by fellow Republicans — that grew faster than inflation plus population growth.

As governor, Sanford issued over 100 budget vetoes in 2004 alone.

We know how Sanford’s first marriage vows turned out. But did he hold his side of the bargain with his constituents?

Sanford voted against the farm bill, not once, but twice. Both times, most Republicans voted yes. The second legislative package cost nearly $1 trillion.

He was also one of just 94 congressmen to vote against the bipartisan Ryan-Murray budget, which traded away some of the hard-won sequestration budget cuts.

The South Carolinian has voted not once but twice against the federal government taking on more debt without negotiated spending cuts.

When President Barack Obama wanted to launch an expensive war in Syria on dubious national security grounds, Sanford was against it.

Sanford is one of just 17 House members with a better than 90 percent rating from FreedomWorks in the last Congress. He has a 95 percent score from Club for Growth.

When not voting against bloated spending, Sanford has supported constitutionally limited government in other ways. He has opposed indefinite detention. He has supported NSA reforms allowing for greater oversight of government surveillance, going so far as to introduce a bill that would make the National Security Agency head subject to Senate confirmation.

Sanford also joined an amicus brief supporting a motion that would require the publication of significant FISA court opinions. “It is important to better understand how Section 215 of the Patriot Act is being implemented and where there is room for improvement,” he said in a statement.

It would be great if constitutional conservatism was common, but it isn’t. Most members of Congress can always find 17 trillion reasons to grow the federal government. Sanford, to his credit, usually doesn’t.

Maybe you can’t make up for breaking a sacred promise to your wife by keeping a morally significant promise to uphold the Constitution. So far, however, Mark Sanford has been trying.

Perhaps that will be the erstwhile Appalachian trail hiker’s road to redemption.

I don’t know what his family or his Creator think about it. But the voters in his district sure seem to like it.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.