Stop Feeling Bad for Jenny Sanford

An affair destroyed former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's career, and it turns out he wanted his ex-wife to manage his comeback. What a jerk! Except, it's now time to dispose of the sad little Good Wife trope.

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An affair destroyed former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's career, and he wanted his ex-wife Jenny to manage his comeback. What a jerk! Except, Jenny Sanford is not quite the picture of a helpless victim blindsided by her now ex-husband's jerkery at every turn. She probably saw this coming — her memoir, Staying True, is about what a weirdo her ex-husband is — and it's now time to dispose of the sad little Good Wife trope.

Sanford was famously caught having an affair with an Argentinian when he disappeared in 2009 and his staff told the press he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail." Instead of holding a perfunctory press conference with a brief admission of the affair, he rambled about the nature of "forbidden love." Jenny moved their four sons out of the governor's mansion and filed for divorce. Almost four years later, both Sanfords were floated as potential candidates in the South Carolina special election to fill the congressional seat vacated when Tim Scott was appointed to fill Jim DeMint's Denate seat. Jenny decided not to run, and when Mark found out, he visited her and asked for help, New York's Jason Zengerle reports. "Since you're not running, I want to know if you'll run my campaign," Mark Sanford said. "We could put the team back together… I could pay you this time."

As Jenny disclosed in her memoir, Mark asked her to run his first campaign, in 1994, because "you're free." But we shouldn't think of Jenny as a poor little wife taken for granted and expected to work without pay. She went on to become one of her husband's most trusted political advisers. "There's absolutely no way he would have ever won the congressional seat or been governor without her," Mark's former press secretary Will Forks told New York. Jenny is mad that Mark is running, in part because she doesn't want the affair rehashed in the press. But also because she wants her own political career! Zengerle reports:

When friends have asked Jenny why, after her divorce, she didn’t begin using her maiden name, Sullivan, she’s told them that she wants to redeem the Sanford name for her sons; many suspect she intends to do this through holding elected office. The main reason she passed on running for Congress this time, according to friends, was that her two younger sons have not yet left for college.

Since the scandal, Jenny hasn't gone into hiding — instead, she posed for Vogue, wrote a memoir, appeared at a White House Correspondents' Association Dinner with plenty of PDA with her new boyfriend, and been an adviser to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. She didn't divorce Mark when she discovered the affair — she divorced him after an embarrassing press conference that appeared to kill his career. (She even let him visit his mistress with a chaperone!) Mark asked Jenny for advice on what to say in that press conference — and she gave him sincere advice, instead of telling him to go stab himself in the eye. Jenny Sanford is clearly quite politically savvy, and it shouldn't be much of a surprise that her ex-husband is still asking her for help. What's more surprising is that we still feel bad for her.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.