Sanford and Sin

Who knew that the Republican presidential primary candidates would already start getting winnowed in 2009?

It's beginning to look as though the question is no longer who's sinning in the GOP. It's who is not. Mark Sanford's disclosure that he's been having a long distance relationship with an Argentine flame cannot possibly be the final revelation of pulchritudinously roving eyes in the Republican ranks. The summer is too young, the temptations overwhelming.

The press conference this afternoon wasn't about Sanford and son, but Sanford and sin. The person most stunned by Sanford's meandering remarks was probably Sen. John Ensign, who's been hoping that the whole subject of adultery will just go away. But it clearly won't, at least as long as the GOP depicts itself as, on the one hand, a bastion of morals, and keeps getting singed by its peccadilloes, on the other.

The blow to the GOP should not be underestimated. Sanford was hailed in the Weekly Standard and other conservative publications. Sanford was supposed to be a promising candidate for 2012, but he couldn't keep his most basic promise to his wife.

Enough. Sanford will presumably disappear, but the contradictions he embodies won't. The GOP is starting to look like a collection of Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's out of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. It's fidelity to principle, you could say, is making it look unprincipled.