Anyone with a passing familiarity with American politics is also familiar with the debating-an-empty-chair ploy, beloved by doomed and/or underfunded candidates whose opponents refuse to give them a chance to recover via frequent public debates. According to Safire’s Political Dictionary, the strategem was first devised by 1924 Progressive Party vice-presidential candidate Burton K. Wheeler, who “debated” an empty chair representing Calvin Coolidge at an Iowa campaign appearance. It’s been used sporadically ever since, culminating most recently, of course, in its bizarre performance by Clint Eastwood at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Well, in a sign that his campaign is in even worse trouble than we thought, the Republican candidate for Congress in South Carolina’s 1st District special election, Mark Sanford, is revising the old stunt by debating a poster–not of his opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch (who has agreed to debate Sanford on April 27), but of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Here’s how the Charleston Post and Courier describes his gambit:

Republican Mark Sanford “debated” a poster of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today as a means of calling out opponent Elizabeth Colbert Busch for not debating him in the 1st Congressional District race….

The Pelosi photographed poster cut-out stood about 5 feet tall. Sanford said a vote for Colbert Busch would also be a vote for Pelosi, the former House leader.

Busch, meanwhile, was spending a good part of the day meeting with a group of Republicans backing her candidacy.

Sanford would probably do better by debating (or groveling before) a blown-up photo of his ex-wife, Jenny, who is likely deriving grim satisfaction from watching the man who has serially humiliated her being reduced to such a pathetic state.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.