April 8, 2009

Assessing GOP 2012 - Sanford

This is the fourth in a series of early analyses of potential GOP candidates.

Other analysis -
Mike Huckabee
Sarah Palin
Bobby Jindal
Mitt Romney

Mark Sanford is the Governor of South Carolina, and was a member of the Contract With America congress of 1994.

Experience: Mark Sanford was elected to Congress initially in 1994 and re-elected comfortably in 1996 and 1998. He did not run in 2000, having made a promise to serve only 3 terms in the House. In 2002 Sanford ran for Governor of South Carolina and won. In 2006 he won re-election as Governor. Total experience for Mark Sanford by 2012 - 10 years as Governor of South Carolina and 6 years of Congressional experience.

Grade: A+. It's hard to argue with a long track record like that.

Likability/Electability: Mark Sanford was the first Governor to formally decline stimulus aid from stimulus package approved by Democrats earlier this year. While it may have been rejected on principle alone, there is definitely a political impact as a result of the decision. Conservatives around the country are likely to applaud the Governor for his stand on principle - the money comes with strings attached (Jindal raised this concern), and the stimulus is full of pork. But in South Carolina, his ratings have apparently dipped from his election level of 55% to a post-refusal low of 40%. I say apparently because the poll was commissioned by the South Carolina Democratic Caucus and it isn't apparent how the questions were asked. So take that plummet with a grain of salt.

In the bigger picture, Sanford has positioned himself as an anti-pork, common sense style candidate, and has roots in populist positions on things like term limits (limiting his own Congressional tenure). His refusal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money will have both positive and negative fallout.

Sanford's opposition to President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and in particular his insistence on using up to a fourth of his state's stimulus funds to pay down debt or refusing it outright, has fast made him a folk hero to conservatives. To some, Sanford's opposition to the stimulus funds is an act of political grandstanding, a naked effort to sell out the poorest and most vulnerable South Carolinians in order to curry favor with a national Republican audience.

To others, he has struck a mighty and principled blow against big government. Whatever else Sanford has done, he has given conservatives a rare opportunity to return to their roots and to shake off the contradictions and compromises that have built up over the past 30 years.

When Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964, conservatism was a rigorous and demanding creed. Rather than promise tax cuts, Goldwater insisted on balanced budgets and sound money. After promising to get rid of any number of New Deal social programs, and after pledging to privatize the Tennessee Value Authority and other cherished infrastructure projects, Goldwater didn't promise anything material in return. No manna would fall from the sky in Goldwater's America. He simply argued that shrinking the federal government and reducing its power would encourage self-reliance, and that self-reliance would encourage the virtues of thrift and industry.

It is easy to see why the supply-siders later derided Goldwater's old-fashioned worldview as "root-canal economics," as it promised a lot more pain, at least in the short term. But Goldwaterism had the virtue of coherence and consistency.

That's not an approach that many people in this day and age will be comfortable with. People want pills to lose weight so that they don't have to exercise. Preaching fundamentals only appeals to true conservatives. Mark Sanford will have a much harder time reaching moderates than would a Mike Huckabee for example.

The common sense of his message will appeal to fiscal conservatives and his populist overtures will be a big plus in the primaries just as it could prove to be a slight negative in the general election.

Grade: C+. (This represents a split grade of A in the primaries and C- in the general election).

Foreign Relations: Governor Sanford's main area of focus is cleaning house domestically, and it's reflected in his vote on foreign policy matters which consist primarily of denying the flow of funds to overseas institutions or governments for concerns such as debt relief. That domestic focus is not a bad thing, as the United States needs to do some serious house cleaning that will be even more dire by 2012. But Governor Sanford has to have the foreign policy credentials to make his run for the Presidency viable. What so far, can we base our impressions on?

He has recognized the issues with China in that he voted against permanent normalized relations with China in 2000. Today given China's military bluster, and growing economic imperialism, seems to be even more prescient.

On Iraq, his position is more than interesting, it's anti-nation-building;

In Congress, he opposed Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo. And he was one of only two Republicans to vote against the 1998 resolution to make regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States. He says that it was a “protest vote” in which he tried to reassert the legislature’s war-declaring powers. When asked about the invasion of Iraq, he extends his critique beyond the constitutional niceties. “I don’t believe in preemptive war,” he says flatly. “For us to hold the moral high ground in the world, our default position must be defensive.”

From a voting perspective, this is an interesting position. Moderate voters and perhaps many Reagan Democrats may be more in tune with Sanford than they were with Bush. This is more of a historical position, and it's also a position libertarians can identify with as well. What's less clear is how conservatives view this positioning. Many conservatives have aligned with the spreading liberty ideas of the Bush administration. It's not traditional conservatism to adhere to that view. It does however square with the liberty angle and the anti-dictatorial positions of traditional conservatism.

What becomes tricky for Sanford is how he squares that position with the situation in Afghanistan over the next few years. Afghanistan will surely come to be viewed as Barack's war just as Iraq is to be viewed as Bush's war. If Obama mismanages it and there's a deterioration in Iraq after the draw-down there, there's room for a more hawkish candidate in the GOP primaries, which is a risk for Sanford. Conversely, he could position himself as considering Afghanistan a defensive war and be more hawkish. Or the American public could be sick of the war from a cost perspective if the economy continues to limp along. It will be viewed as less of a priority and a cost burden and that plays into Sanford's position on foreign affairs.

Grade: B- (there's lots of room for fluctuation on this mark, depending on how circumstances unfold over the next 3 years).

Economy: As a Congressman, Sanford voted to eliminate the marriage tax penalty, to lower small business taxes and middle class taxes. He was in favor of welfare reform. He voted against the Kyoto Protocol. As Governor, he in 2006 he pushed to limit spending increases to population growth plus inflation. He is anti-deficit spending and it's impact on the value of the dollar, he supports a balanced budget amendment and a line item veto for the President.

In addition, he sponsored a bill for personal retirement accounts in Social Security in 2000, knowing it's the biggest problem coming in the next 20 years. He also voted to fast track free trade agreements. Those who favor such agreements would find it incumbent upon the businesses and citizens of a nation to adapt to the broader free market and continue to prosper accordingly. As a fiscal conservative, I'm inclined to look favorably on his focus on the basics on economics.

Grade: A (see my note above, there may be a bit of bias in my analysis).

Military: Sanford's focus on economic restraint will have an impact on defense spending. While he has a record of approval of defense appropriations and supported spending on SDI, the current economic climate will definitely have an impact on his future prioritization. Sanford will likely argue that painful changes are required across the board, including in defense in order to right the country economically. While that may be true, the world faces an emerging Chinese military threat, and an attempted Russian resurgence.

The American military may see cuts to new programs under Sanford, and existing spending will likely be capped to the extent that Sanford feels comfortable, given his somewhat dovish position on foreign relations. If he can find the right balance and spin the debate to requiring Europe to carry their own weight (whether it turns out that way or not), it does not have to be a negative for Sanford. However, this is not one of his strong suits and will likely be a detriment to him, at least during the primaries.

Grade: D+ (with room to push it up into a C+ range, assuming no changes to his fundamental positions).

National / Border Security: Mark Sanford is in favor of increased skilled immigration (as opposed to unskilled) and in favor of English as an official language of the United States. However, on more than one occasion he has voted against border enforcement (specifically putting troops on the Mexican border) and has voted predominantly pro-immigration policies that sometimes have been a little too dogmatic in nature.

Grade: D

Social Issues: Let's try the checklist approach here. The Governor is anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action (on college admissions), tough on crime, is in favor of prayer in schools, and in favor of school vouchers. His voting has been pro-family. In Congress he voted NO on decreasing gun waiting period from 3 days to 1 in 1999.

Grade: B

Conservatism: In the Atlantic, a libertarian view of conservatism, the following excerpt defines much of Sanford's conservatism;

Sanford's conservative credentials compare favorably to anyone else mentioned as a 2012 presidential contender. He calls the public-education system "a Soviet-style monopoly." He promoted school choice through tax rebates to avoid the appearance of government control. He passed a "Castle doctrine" bill that was supported by the NRA. He favors a law-and-order approach to immigration, but opposed REAL ID on civil liberties grounds. Though he avoids showy displays of piety, he is reliably pro-life.

But the governor edges closer to pure libertarianism at times. He rolls his eyes at the Columbia sheriff's department's zeal in investigating Michael Phelps's recreational pot use. And he criticizes Alan Greenspan's management of the "opaque" Federal Reserve. "If you take human nature out of a Fed, it might work," he explains. "But you can't. You can have these wise men. But who wants to turn off the spigot at a party that's rolling?"

Grade: B+

Overall: Looking back at the overall spread of marks on Mark Sanford, I'd have to give him a higher rating than I'd expected based on the ratings in each of the categories above.

Grade: B- for solid fiscal conservatism and experience. While Palin has more A's her two big spots in need of a boost are the economy and foreign affairs. Those are pretty big areas. Sanford would score higher if he were stronger on immigration and national security.


  1. Finally a reason to be proud of my state...To critics who would say he sold out the poor, I have only to say that strings-attached federal aid--whether welfare or stimulus--is the new slavery, and freeing the poor from it, rather like ending actual slavery, may cause some short-term pain, but the long-term benefits overwhelm it.
    I kind of agree with him on the border--security is VERY important, but the military deployed on US soil makes me kind of nervous.
    And I think more libertarian candidates might be a better future for the Republican party--other than President Messiah, Ron Paul was the most effective candidate at mobilizing young people in quite some time.

  2. The libertarian versus 'traditional' conservatism is the trickiest part of the GOP future direction. I think both points of view have valid ideas and concerns. It's all a matter of degrees to libertarian versus social consrvatism. For example drugs. Pure libertarianism would allow all drugs to be lega, pure conservatism would likely outlaw even alcohol because of it's negative societal effects. For some that may be a cut-and-dry issue but not for me.

    As for the military deployed on US soil, context plays a big part. I understand your concern but what about for example Katrina relief? (http://www.brookings.edu/fp/projects/homeland/katrinamilitarydeployments.pdf)

    There are circumstances where with a clearly defined, non-threatening mission they can do good, and border security is one issue that they could be used to help nip a problem in the bud.

  3. I'm somewhere between pure libertarianism and conservatism--going with the drugs example, while I don't want full-out legalization, I think forty years and a trillion dollars of "war on drugs" achieving no results is pretty clear proof a treatment program would be better.
    And as uneasy as I am with troops on our soil, we do use the military to enforce Korea's border, so I could see allowing them to enforce ours--although it could also be a way to desensitize us to a greater presence (in the pattern of "ban machine guns, then ban scary-looking 'assault weapons,' then ban handguns, then ban all guns").


Disagreement is always welcome. Please remain civil. Vulgar or disrespectful comments towards anyone will be removed.

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