Now his office is saying the governor will be back on Wednesday. I will believe that when I see him, or when reliable third-party witnesses report that they have seen him, and not before, given the bizarre ways in which this has unfolded.
His staff, and some of his few remaining supporters, now that they’ve come up, very belatedly, with the “somewhere on the Appalachian Trail” explanation, are now trying to make like this is the most natural thing in the world, and that if there’s anything wrong with anybody, it’s with the people who are saying Where the hell is the governor? Spokesman Joel Sawyer put it this way to the AP, about a call the office had received from the boss this morning: “It would be fair to say the governor was somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten…”
Oh, come on. Whatever else might be said about all this, the idea that those asking where the governor is are acting oddly, to the point of being a source of bemusement to the imperturbable Gov. Sangfroid, is a decidedly specious line of reasoning, appealing only to those who really, really want to believe in it. Let’s review the way this has unfolded. This sequence leads to the conclusion that this is one of the strangest gubernatorial developments in South Carolina in decades. Not the biggest or most important or anything like that; just one of the strangest:
- Last Thursday, the governor drove off in the special blue-light-equipped SLED car that is supposed to be driven by his security escort. From the reports I’ve seen (mainly at thestate.com, which I consider to be reliable), this was without the knowledge of anyone at SLED.
- Sometime late last week, the governor turned off or removed the battery from his cell phones (once again, I’m citing The State’s sources). The last trace possible on his whereabouts places him in the Atlanta area. Now folks, even if you leave out everything about this story, this is strange enough on its own. Maybe you can come up with an explanation for this behavior by the governor of a state who has fled his security detail — his phones got wet and he was drying them out, or some such — but this one act is so suggestive of the term “fugitive” that it’s hard to explain away. This is double-naught spy stuff. Jason Bourne stuff. People do things like this in movies, or in paranoid dystopian novels about protagonists fleeing the authorities in totalitarian future societies (and yes, I realize that folks of Mr. Sanford’s political philosophy sort of believe that government is that way in real life, but action upon such a believe to this extent would be really out there). As far as anyone (anyone who would come forward with information, that is) was able to piece together by early Monday afternoon: He ditched his security, left the state, and dropped off the radar screen.
- On Saturday, Jake Knotts — who has every reason in the world to embarrass the governor, a fact that does NOT mean he’s not onto something this time — calls the head of SLED and confirms that they don’t know where the governor is with their car. Two days after he took off.
- On Monday, before they came up with the hiking-in-the-wilderness thing, the best his office can come up with is this to explain the governor’s absence since Thursday: “Gov. Sanford is taking some time away from the office this week to recharge after the stimulus battle and the legislative session, and to work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside. We are not going to discuss the specifics of his travel arrangements or his security arrangements.”
- Also on Monday, Jenny Sanford is interviewed by The Associated Press. Now I don’t even know why the First Lady commented at all, but what she said was that her husband has been gone for several days and she did not know where, that he was writing something, and that she was not concerned. That’s what’s been reported. I’d like to see a transcript, because those pieces of information don’t fit together very well.
- Late Monday afternoon, we learn from the lieutenant governor’s office that they have been assured by the governor’s office that it “now knows where he is” (quote from thestate.com). Why would the governor’s office tell the lt. gov’s office that, when they were not quite as forthcoming with anyone else up to that point? Because Sanford’s people don’t want Andre Bauer having an excuse to say that he’s in charge. That is so say, I choose to do them the compliment of assuming that was their motive.
- Late Monday night, with this blowing up into a national story (at one point I was in contact with someone from The New York Post because they were looking for someone to string a story for them, but nothing came of it — the Daily News, however, did produce a story, as did somewhat less excitable news sources), his staff produces the Appalachian Trail explanation. Of course, we know that all South Carolinians first go to Atlanta and erase their tracks before going on the Trail…
- This morning, we are told the governor checks in and wonders what all the fuss is about. Yeah, OK.
Tomorrow, they promise to produce him. I hope they do. I hope he’s OK, despite all the indications to the contrary.
But folks, even the very rosiest scenario you can paint from the available facts, you are still left with this: Mark Sanford is the kind of guy who would disappear like this, and then act like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Which it is not.
Now folks, all of those bullet items up there are pieced together from a number of unsatisfactory sources — from people who don’t like the governor, or people who aren’t speaking for attribution, or people who don’t particularly want to be forthcoming.
And if you’ve got better information that refutes any of it, it will be welcome. I just hope it’s better than the sudden, reluctant announcement after four days that the governor is taking a hike.