Runaway Governor: The Sequel

Coming soon to a Statehouse near you: After South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's disappearing act, Kathleen Parker muses on the attention-grabbing strategies the other 2012 Republican contenders are plotting.

Mary Ann Chastain / AP Photo

The mysterious six-day vanishing act of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has other aspiring Republican presidential candidates scrambling to raise their national profiles.

“Let’s face it,” said one governor. “A week ago, 10 people outside South Carolina knew the name Mark Sanford. Today, the entire world knows who he is. Oh, quel maverick! Quel mystery man!”

“A week ago, 10 people outside South Carolina knew the name Mark Sanford. Today, the entire world knows who he is. Oh, quel maverick! Quel mystery man!”

The South Carolina governor, it turns out, needed a little downtime after wrestling with the federal government over stimulus money he didn’t want but was forced to take. He left town without telling even his wife where he was going and was incommunicado for several days.

Now the governor tells us he wasn't hiking the Appalachian Trail, as his staff originally said. Instead, he was in Buenos Aires. Alone. Right. Whatever. The explanation du jour—very likely to be followed by another before we finish chewing this one over—is that he considered hiking on the Appalachian Trail, an activity he said he has enjoyed since he was a high school student. "But I said 'no' I wanted to do something exotic," Sanford said. "... It's a great city."

As stunts go, this one doesn’t trump the time Sanford brought two piglets to the statehouse chamber to protest pork (get it?)—but the ploy worked. For several hours, Sanford nudged out Iran, North Korea, and Perez Hilton to lead The Drudge Report. The governor, meanwhile, reports being baffled that people got themselves so worked up. Can’t a governor drop out of sight for a few days?

While South Carolinians decide how to answer that question, we checked with other GOP frontrunners for 2012 to see what they might be plotting to tip the kliegs their way. Our curiosity was not misplaced—several governors have been calling emergency meetings to map out attention-grabbing strategies. We concede that the following could just be rumor, but we’re hearing that:

Mitt Romney has been meeting with seasoned politicos and consultants to try to tone down his just-scrubbed image. First up is John Edwards, who will show Romney how to achieve that dry-hair look while keeping every follicle in place. The former Massachusetts governor also will be meeting with Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy for tips on how to banter in the ’hood about “bling” without telegraphing that he’s never actually been this close to a black person before.

Sarah Palin will be hosting a series of international colloquia in Alaska to discuss abstinence-only energy policies. “Just Don’t Go Anywhere” is the title of the first gathering. Asked to explain this novel approach to energy independence, Palin said:

“Look, my parents didn’t hand me a passport and give me a backpack and say, ‘Go off and travel the world.’ No, I’ve worked all my life. And besides, you can see Russia from my back door. That’s how you save energy. You stay put. When Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s just right over the border. By not going anywhere, not only do we save gas and reduce our energy dependence on terrorists who pal around with Barack Obama and Bill Ayers, but an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia. Ta-Da!”

Mike Huckabee—though he hosts his own talk show, plays guitar, preaches the gospel, and has written a weight-loss book—nonetheless is reportedly feeling marginalized by his fellow Southerner’s brilliant maneuver into Deliverance country. In an apparent effort to expand his reach deep into the Republican base, he has signed a deal with Reality TV World for a show in which the entire Huckabee family will spend six weeks at Parris Island dieting, exercising, and living in a Marine Corps barracks.

When Mrs. Huckabee was asked what she thought of her husband’s new idea, she said: “Oh, well, we all have our little crosses to bear, don’t we? You know, our first date was cheeseburgers. I guess we’ll get through it, though come to think of it. Mike’s book was called Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork. Wonder if we could dig one with a spoon?”

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Bobby Jindal, the wunderkind governor of Louisiana and great latte hope of the GOP, was unimpressed with Sanford’s little excursion. During the six days the South Carolina governor was missing, Jindal wrote a new 5,000-page national health-care plan, invented a hybrid automobile that gets 120 miles to the gallon, performed three exorcisms, and translated Bubba’s Best Barbecue Recipes into Sanskrit. He said he doesn’t want any attention because he’s too busy evolving into a higher life form.

Have we missed any other governors? Ah! Tim Pawlenty, the lesser-known and completely normal governor of Minnesota, apparently knew where Sanford was all along and was, in fact, text-messaging him. A copy of his text was leaked to writer Robert Draper (isn’t everything?) and read as follows: “Dude. I musta missed the invite. Righteous call, though. Really smooth. Let’s get together soon, watch some MTV and crunch some numbers. Love it.”

Pawlenty then issued a news release saying that he would be in his office every day through the end of his term in case anyone wants him for any reason whatsoever.

From the non-governor’s corner, not least, we wondered what The Newt might be up to and were not disappointed. The Talking Human Contract with America (And Anyone Else Who Will Listen) is writing a 12-volume History of Newt Gingrich. Asked about Sanford’s stunt, the former House speaker twittered: “2 busy saving world. Gastonia, St. Pete, great Baltics cruise, hannity tonight—damn i'm good. more tk. who the hell is mark sanford?”

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and author of Save the Males.