To conservatives, Mark Sanford's victory against Elizabeth Colbert Busch in the South Carolina special election is a sign of hope that their values are making a comeback, but they miss its real significance which might prove disappointing for them. Sanford, a Tea Party favorite in spite of his infidelity, represents the radicalized right-wing faction that is dividing the Republican Party, and has already cost them in the 2012 election.
American politics can be broken down into cycles known as realignments. Depending on which school of thought you subscribe to, these occur roughly every 30 to 60 years. The most recent realignment occurred in the 2012 reelection of President Barack Obama. Americans thoroughly rejected the prevailing mantra of the Republican Party from the Reagan realignment that private is better than public, taxes on the rich must be low to inspire growth, and regulations inhibit business.
Democrats won voter majorities in the House (though because of gerrymandering they did not win the majority of seats), the Senate, and the Presidency. A big part of this success can be attributed to the members of the Tea Party whose gaffes and positions alienated the generally moderate American public. Today's Republicans are still reeling from the defeat, a divide growing between those who recognize the realignment and are willing to moderate their positions, and those who do not, and will not. The latter group are behind what is known as "GOP obstruction" and the low approval rating of Congress.
The GOP's only hope for making a significant showing in upcoming elections is if it can reign in its more extreme members, move back to the middle and work across the aisle, but thus far that has been difficult. Immigration reform is largely considered one area where this might be possible as many Republicans saw the defeat as a sign the Southern Strategy was no longer enough to win elections, in that new demographics would be needed. As South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham put it "We're not generating enough angry white guys." These Republicans see Latinos as a potential and necessary voting block. Unfortunately for them, the extreme of their own party whose strategy seems to be oppose President Obama at all costs, is presenting a bit of a problem.
Sanford's election means one more voice for obstruction, one more voice for unpopular politics. As history teaches us "a house divided cannot stand." This rule applies to America's parties as well. Sanford's victory reaffirms the fault lines among conservatives and will do little to help ease tensions between Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration. This could spell disaster for the 2014 conservative election effort.