SANFORD’S PRECARIOUS FUTURE…. Not surprisingly, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R) political health did not improve after his painful mid-afternoon press conference. Indeed, things went from bad to worse when The State, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, published a series of emails Sanford sent to his mistress last July. (Far more interesting than the private love letters is the question of who leaked the emails in the first place.)

Making matters even worse still, it appears that at least one of Sanford’s trips to Argentina was financed by taxpayers, which makes the “private, personal indiscretion” argument a little more difficult to make.

So, what happens next? The State reported this morning that South Carolina lawmakers, many of whom were never especially enamored with the governor in the first place, are focused specifically on his bizarre disappearance, and the fact that he effectively stopped doing his job for a while.

In the next few days, lawmakers may consider whether Sanford abandoned his duties as governor. No lawmaker uttered the word “impeachment.” But most left the impression an apology may not be enough.

“We all know that leaving the state without a governor for any period of time is not acceptable,” said Attorney General Henry McMaster, a Republican who plans to run for governor in 2010. “I suspect Governor Sanford now understands that better than anyone else.” […]

[State Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R)] — who clashed repeatedly with Sanford over money issues, taking sharp criticism from him — said Sanford “basically stopped being governor” while in Argentina.

Lawmakers said they’d begin asking lawyers to help define phrases like “gubernatorial negligence” and “abandonment of office.”

The governor’s strategy, I suspect, is to hunker down and wait for the storm to blow over. Under the circumstances, it’s unlikely to work.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.