Is Sanford too lovesick to govern?

Pressure to resign mounts as the Republican South Carolina governor's emotional outpourings raise doubts among his own party.

Mary Ann Chastain/AP
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford collects his thoughts Tuesday, as he admits to The Associated Press more encounters with his Argentine mistress than he previously has disclosed, in his office in Columbia, S.C.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford hasn’t budged on his vow to remain in office despite laying bare his heart about his trysts with an Argentine lover and encounters with other women.

But some political observers say the love affair and the furor around it has clouded Governor Sanford’s judgment, leaving him too distracted and politically damaged to last much longer as the Palmetto State’s chief executive.

Sanford has turned important business of the state into “The Mark Sanford Show,” says veteran political observer and lobbyist John Crangle.

“He’s lost contact with reality,” says Mr. Crangle. “He seems to go up and down like a yo-yo: One minute he’s involved in the transports of love and romance, and the next thing he’s crying in Argentina for five days. He’s really on a roller coaster, and I’m concerned.”

The lovesick governor is somewhat unusual among political sex scandals, which don't generally involve waxing lyrical about “magnificent, gentle kisses,” as Sanford did in e-mails to Maria Belen Chapur, the former TV reporter with whom he had an affair for at least a year.

So, will this affair affect Sanford's future or not?

Andy Brack, publisher of the S.C. Statehouse Report, says he thinks “the pressure is now off” Sanford, and he should be able to serve out his term.

But more than half of the Republican-controlled state Senate has called for Sanford’s resignation. And some say the governor is losing the grass-roots support – including retirees, rural voters, and evangelicals – he relied on in making unpopular decisions such as his attempt to reject federal stimulus dollars, a fight he eventually lost in court.

“I’m concerned about his mental well-being,” state Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler Jr. told The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. Mr. Peeler has called for Sanford to step down.

Sanford’s contradictory statements, such as admitting that Ms. Chapur is his “soul mate” while saying he wants to fall back in love with his wife, may not be helping his case.

In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Sanford revealed that he’d seen Chapur more often than previously noted and had “crossed lines” with other women during his career. He described his affair with Chapur as “a love story. A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day."

It’s of course impossible to know what exactly Sanford is thinking. But psychologists say that heightened states of emotion can impact how people perceive the world around them.

“Emotion can help our decisionmaking, and it can also make it worse,” says Douglas Wedell, a psychology professor at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, who studies judgment and decisionmaking.

Meanwhile, a preliminary investigation has cleared Sanford of any potential criminal acts such as misappropriated state funds during his transnational trysts. There are provisions in state law to remove a mentally unstable governor, but that’s unlikely to happen.

And forcing Sanford to resign could create another leadership crisis. Lt. Gov. André Bauer has also shown some volatile qualities, some critics say, citing two stops this past year for driving more than 100 miles per hour.

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