Gov. Mark Sanford is acting like a love-struck teenager.
Or, maybe he has a deeper personality disorder, some experts speculate.
As the saga of Sanford and his Argentine lover continues, the public, the governor’s political rivals and some allies are speculating about the governor’s mental stability and whether he’s able to lead the state.
While mental health experts are reluctant to pin a diagnosis on the governor, their observations of his behavior suggest a chemical imbalance, narcissism and impulsive behavior.
Sanford has not sought professional mental health treatment, said Joel Sawyer, the governor’s spokesman.
But some fellow politicians are saying the governor needs help.
“That’s a troubled man,” said Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, a longtime Sanford ally who this year became frustrated at Sanford’s refusal to take federal stimulus money. “You can see it in his eyes and his body language. I’m concerned about his mental well-being.”
John Crangle, executive director of Common Cause South Carolina, called Sanford “delusional” and said it was obvious the governor has “serious mental problems.”
“The idea that he could carry on this relationship and at the same time be governor, run the Republican governor’s association and have presidential aspirations, it shows an individual who has lost contact with reality,” said Crangle, who has worked as a divorce lawyer. “He sees no limitations. He can do what he wants.”
One prominent Republican who is close to Sanford and has been in regular contact with him also has questioned the governor’s well-being. “When your support is evaporating but your resolve (to stay in office) is increasing, that’s a bad combination,” said the source, who did not want to be identified.
Peeler cites the governor’s mental state as one more reason he should resign. Crangle said Sanford should at least take a leave of absence and get a psychiatric evaluation.
The state Constitution has measures for removing a mentally unstable governor, but that’s not likely to happen in this case, observers said.
Still, people are talking.
Aside from political operatives, the general public is weighing in on Internet message boards and around dinner tables, saying Sanford needs mental help.
Psychiatrists, psychologists and other professionals who work with behavior disorders were reluctant to diagnose Sanford based on what they have seen on television or read in newspapers.
But a few were willing to offer theories as to what could be driving the governor’s behavior.
Susan Hardwicke, a licensed social worker who runs a clinical practice in Columbia, said Sanford could be under the influence of brain chemicals that fire when a person falls in love.
“People do crazy things for love,” Hardwicke said. “That’s what all the songs are about. Nobody in their right mind would do what he’s doing.”
This behavior is temporary, she said. Research shows romantic love lasts less than two years. (Sanford’s term as governor has 18 months remaining.)
Sanford’s public declarations of his love for his Argentine lover are reckless, but that’s how those tbrain chemicals make people act, Hardwicke said. Those affected are like drug addicts, she said.
“He’s being ‘the man.’ He’s showing how much he loves her,” Hardwicke said. “I don’t know any governor who says, ‘My lover is my soul mate.’”
Jane Arave, a licensed professional counselor at the Northeast Counseling and Learning Center, said Sanford’s behavior mimics that of former President Bill Clinton.
“They get a thought in their heads and they can’t stop themselves,” she said. “It’s has to be a driving force they can’t stop. They don’t think of the consequences. It’s impulsive behavior.”
State Sen. John Land, D-Clarendon, said he thinks Sanfords’ issues go deeper. He described Sanford as narcissistic.
“He seems to revel in and enjoy these intimate details as if his love affair was the most perfect one,” Land said. “If the rest of us did this, it would be a second-rate love affair. He’s not in touch with reality.”
Jerome H. Hanley, a board-certified clinical psychologist in Columbia, said Sanford’s problems appear to run deep — trauma, depression, narcissism.
“There are so many times that he has left himself open to question his judgment,” he said.
While Hanley said he could not offer a diagnosis, he would not rule out personality disorders, citing Sanford’s history of fighting with the Republican Party and his dogmatic political and moral stances.
The governor also is going through trauma after being caught in an affair, separated from his wife and sons, and facing intense scrutiny from his family, the media, other politicians and the general public. On top of that, he recently lost a high-profile fight over federal stimulus money.
“What other governor in the country had to have children bring a lawsuit against him to get the stimulus money?” Hanley said. “That’s embarrassing.”
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307. Staff writer James Rosen in Washington also contributed.