Mark Sanford conceding with sons nearby.jpg

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford paused to look at his notes while speaking with supporters — including his sons Blake (from left), Bolton, Marshall and Landon — as he conceded the primary race to state Rep. Katie Arrington in Tuesday's S.C. Republican primary. The election night event was at Liberty Taproom in Mount Pleasant on June 12, 2018. Wade Spees/Staff

Anyone who didn’t see that bus coming Tuesday apparently doesn’t look both ways before crossing the street.

It’s been slowly rolling in Mark Sanford's direction for a long time.

In this week’s Republican primary, the congressman and former governor lost his first political race when state Rep. Katie Arrington beat him by 2,700 votes.

And the nation acted stunned.

Everyone was quick to credit Arrington’s win to a Tuesday afternoon tweet from President Trump, and he was quicker to take credit. But that’s self-promoting baloney.

Sure, it didn’t help that Sanford was critical of some of Trump’s more asinine antics. Can’t go around pointing out the obvious to the oblivious.

But has everyone forgotten 2016, when Summerville state Rep. Jenny Horne came within 4,300 votes of knocking Sanford out? And she spent like $5 on her campaign.

With another couple of weeks, she would have rightfully won.

Fact is, Sanford got his third act in politics only because he had the highest name ID in the 2013 special election for the 1st Congressional District seat.

And in 2014, Democrats kicked themselves for not fielding a Sanford opponent when, after the filing deadline, he broke up with his soulmate on Facebook — a 2,300-word outpouring of TMI.

No, we didn’t need Nostradamus to see this coming.

A long, strange trip

Sanford has been making people mad nearly his entire career. In fact, it’s part of his charm.

Oh, he didn’t start out that way. In his first stint as a congressman, he became legend by sleeping in his office and being so frugal with taxpayer money that he voted against such budget-busting programs as a postage stamp to promote breast cancer awareness.

And when he quit after three terms, proving he could walk the walk on term limits, the GOP swooned. It’s no wonder he beat a half-dozen other Republicans in the 2002 gubernatorial primary.

But as governor, it seemed he ticked off a new constituency every week — teachers, state employees, his own staff — leaving many opponents wondering at what point all those irate folks added up to 51 percent of the electorate.

Somehow, the Teflon Kid endured it all. A mere decade ago, fawning South Carolina Republicans considered him presidential material.

Seems like a lifetime ago now. In recent years, he’s done nothing but irritate the ultra-conservative types who typically turn out for the GOP primary.

Remember, they pulled out the pitchforks when he supported John Boehner for House Speaker in early 2015. Which was the first sign that he’d learned cutting off his political nose to spite his face was not in his — or his constituents’ — best interest.

And his famously rigid principles became, well, more nuanced.

He should have known his days were numbered, and his fiscal conservative shtick was wearing thin, when his own party voted to blow up the deficit with a tax cut that overwhelmingly only benefited millionaires and mega-corporations.

Yes, Sanford changed over the years. But the party changed more.

And both shifts forecast this outcome.

A comeback?

It’s kind of sad to think we won’t have Sanford to kick around anymore.

But there’s no telling whether he can rebound from this sort of rejection. He’s been a sensitive soul since he dropped the Mr. Spock act.

At the 2009 press conference when he confessed his affair, Sanford got in touch with his feelings and talked way, way too long. And he’s been talking ever since. Somewhere, he’s probably still giving that concession speech.

For years, there have been rumors that Sanford had ambitions beyond the 1st District. Some said he wanted to run for governor again. Of course, many politicos opine that he’s no longer a viable statewide candidate because his adultery would play poorly in the Upstate.


It was kinda rich to see the serial adulterer-in-chief — who’s quite popular in the Greenville-Spartanburg area — chide Sanford for infidelity. Is hypocrisy an official plank in the party’s platform now?

Fact is, Democrats felt Sanford was damaged enough that they had a chance to knock him off in November. All they needed was a candidate with a simple message who didn’t ramble on about long-dead economists or whatever Sanford was typically jabbering about.

But we will never know. And unless he dusts himself off and runs for, say, Lindsey Graham's U.S. Senate seat, his 19-year political career is over.

Because Tuesday, that bus finally caught up with Mark Sanford.

Reach Brian Hicks at