Mark Sanford was sworn in as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday (with his famous fiancee Maria Belen Chapur by his side), just in time to join 226 other House Republicans (and two Democrats) in voting to repeal in its entirety the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Sanford, in fact, was one of the House freshman for whom this 37th repeal vote was held, and got his moment to speak, denouncing the individual mandate as though it was some sort of new, socialistic idea instead of an old conservative idea from the Heritage Foundation.
But let’s not forget: Sanford was first elected to the House in 1994, as one of that year’s vast number of Republican freshmen (representing, it was often claimed, a “revolution”) bent on stopping liberalism in its tracks and unraveling the New Deal/Great Society legacy. Sanford’s just the 10th member of that class still around in the House. But despite everything that’s happened to him and to the political system in the intervening years (you know, a couple of government shutdowns, a presidential impeachment, a presidential election decided by the Supreme Court, a major terrorist attack, two wars, a budget deficit turning into a surplus turning into deficits again, a Long Boom and a Great Recession), there he is again, stepping up to vote “no” and uttering the same small-government free-market pieties.
It’s a reminder that the conservative movement is engaged in a Long March that never really changes, for all the rebranding and relabeling, and all the new (though usually prosperous white male) faces we see each two years. The only fundamental thing that’s changed since the first time Mark Sanford was sworn in is that the conservative movement now unambiguously rules the Republican Party, and can command the entire House Republican conference in monotonously voting to take away access to health insurance for tens of millions of Americans (a small down payment on the “entitlement” rollback they’d actually like to secure). So Mark Sanford hasn’t just executed a “comeback;” he’s come home.