The South Carolina Republican Party voted to censure Gov. Mark Sanford Monday—rather than call for his resignation—an outcome that makes it likely the GOP governor will be able to weather the storm surrounding his extramarital affair and remain in office.
The vote of the state GOP executive committee took place late Monday night following a nearly four-hour-long conference call and three rounds of ballots aimed at getting a majority of the committee to either censure, support or ask the governor to resign.
The censure finally agreed to by the committee called the governor's behavior a breach of "the public’s trust and confidence in his ability to effectively perform the duties of his office."
Sanford was also criticized by the committee for failing to adhere to the "core principles and beliefs" of the Republican Party, though the censure noted that "barring further revelation" Monday's action would be "the party’s last word on the matter."
The final vote was 22 to censure, 10 calling for resignation and 9 supporting the governor.
"The events of the past two weeks have been as divisive as they have been disappointing for Republicans. But today has brought a large measure of resolution to a sad chapter in our State Party’s history," South Carolina GOP Chairman Karen Floyd said in a statement following the vote. "Republicans came together to speak with a unified voice, and now is the time for healing."
Though Monday’s vote does not have had any binding effect on the governor, it serves as a sign that even many of Sanford’s enemies among the state party establishment may no longer have the will to continue calling for his resignation, barring any unforeseen or additional disclosures about the governor’s personal life.
For Sanford, it was an improbable outcome after events last week left him with a tenuous grip on the governorship. In a tell-all interview with the Associated Press last Tuesday, he referred to his Argentine mistress as his “soul mate” and confessed having “crossed lines” with a handful of other women, admissions that proved so damaging that more than half the Republican state Senate caucus called for him to step down in the aftermath.
But the party vote Monday night and a series of other factors have provided him with some breathing room, if not ensured his outright political survival, according to top South Carolina Republicans.
First, there is his obstinate nature. Sanford has long bucked the political establishment and made plain that he has no intent to resign, no matter what his fellow Republicans think is best for the party and state.
“He can dig in and take a pounding,” said former state GOP chairman Katon Dawson.
A GOP state legislator recalled that the iconoclastic Sanford has never feared being a lonely voice, whether as the sole opposing vote in Congress or as governor.
“He does not mind being the one guy,” said this legislator. “He doesn’t care, just doesn’t give a hoot.”
And, after divulging too much to the AP, Sanford has wisely clammed up. He didn’t appear at a press availability on port security Monday near Charleston with Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and his office would only issue a statement reiterating his plan to stay in office.
Widespread concern about the most immediate consequence of Sanford’s resignation also worked to his advantage. While many Republican officials would like to see the governor save the state any more embarrassment, they worry about elevating Lt. Gov Andre Bauer, a fellow Republican with a record of his own erratic behavior in the past.
"It appears that the Republican establishment is more concerned about the next election than they are the next 18 months," said one prominent state politician and a Sanford critic. “They seem more focused on keeping Andre Bauer from assuming the governorship than ensuring that someone serves effectively.”
Even those close to Sanford recognize that apprehension over the prospect of Bauer – never an ally to the governor – are part of the reason there haven’t been louder and more strenuous calls on him to resign.
And no two voices have been more noticeably absent than those of the state’s two Republican senators, Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham.
Both have had candid private conversations with the governor about his political standing and DeMint said last week on television that Sanford needed to “do the right thing.”
But neither has said publicly that Sanford ought to resign – a golden silence that those advising the governor believe has prevented a critical mass of Republicans from forming to force Sanford out.
Then there are the procedural hurdles. Even if there was a critical mass calling for his departure, Sanford has an ace in the hole: absent a felony, it’s very difficult to force a South Carolina governor to resign.
The legislature is out of session until January, for one thing, and lawmakers have not yet indicated any real appetite for impeachment.