Of all the political scandals involving infidelity in high places - John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, James McGreevey - one stands out not for what the politician did, but for what the politician's wife did not do. Jenny Sanford did not stand by her man in the glare of lights and cameras as he, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, confessed.

Governor MARK SANFORD (Republican, South Carolina): So, the bottom line is this: I've been unfaithful to my wife. I developed a relationship with a - what started as a dear, dear friend, from Argentina.

MONTAGNE: That affair and his rambling, tearful description of it ended Mark Sanford's star turn as the Republican's most resolute fiscal conservative. Now, Jenny Sanford has written about what led up to this moment, in a new memoir, "Staying True." And she joined us from Charleston to talk about it. Thanks very much for joining us.

Ms. JENNY SANFORD (Author, "Staying True"): I'm glad to be here, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, I just wondered - is that still hard for you to listen to?

Ms. SANFORD: You know, in some respects, yes. The whole saga has been somewhat surreal. But you know, it becomes like all things in life, it becomes part of who you are, I guess. So, it's probably not the last time I'll hear that press conference again.

MONTAGNE: Well, remind listeners, if you would. Governor Sanford - Mark Sanford - arrived at this press conference just after getting off a plane from Argentina, after being caught in a lie about having been hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Ms. SANFORD: Right. Well, he told his staff, apparently, that he was going to hike on the Appalachian Trail. But I was aware, already, that he had been having an affair, and I basically asked him to leave the house. And that did not include permission to see his lover. So, when I heard that he was supposedly on the Appalachian Trail, frankly I was hopeful that's where he was, and I was hopeful that he was alone, but I had plenty of reason to doubt.

MONTAGNE: You did not stand stoically and supportively next to your disgraced husband. Why not?

Ms. SANFORD: Well, a couple of reasons. One, he didn't ask me - but if he had asked me, I would've said no. Two, we were separated. I don't know what I would have stood by him about. He had been physically in Argentina; I had not really had contact with him until that morning, when he was on his way back. There were a lot of surrounding factors.

MONTAGNE: You did watch it on television.

Ms. SANFORD: Mm-hmm.

MONTAGNE: How did you even manage to get through it? Because, you know, it didn't have to be this way, but it was over the top.

Ms. SANFORD: Mm-hmm. You know, actually, I felt very strongly that not only did I need to watch the press conference but, I mean, I even, you know, asked one of my girlfriends - shh, I said, you have to be quiet. I mean, I felt like I needed to hear every word, in some respects, because I really felt the need to make a statement afterwards. Not a sound bite, but to really let the world know where I was coming from.

MONTAGNE: What you said in your statement was very well-received.

Ms. SANFORD: You know, it was very honest and very from the heart - speaking about things that matter to me: marriage, family; I quoted from the Bible; you know, I asked for people to respect our privacy while I did my best to heal our family.

MONTAGNE: In the book, we find that your husband, after he finished his press conference, he called you up and his question at that time was, how'd I do?

Ms. SANFORD: Yeah, how'd I do? Oh gosh. I just, you know, talk about another gut punch. How'd you do? I said, gee whiz. He saw me as an adviser, you know, wanted me to give him political advice about how he was received.

MONTAGNE: What exactly did you say to him?

Ms. SANFORD: I think I said, are you kidding? You, you know, cried for your lover and said very little of me or the boys. You know, from a wife's perspective, no, he did not say what I wished he had said. And frankly, from a political perspective, he talked way too long. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SANFORD: If I were to have responded with my political hat, or my spouse hat, or my Christian hat, or my mom hat - I mean, you know, I would've given him a poor grade on all counts.

MONTAGNE: Really, you know, though, there was a stunning disconnect between who he was speaking to - that is you, his wife...

Ms. SANFORD: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...who he's betrayed - and what he's asking you to comment on. And I just wonder if that's part of a disconnect that you describe, that seemed to be exacerbated when he went into politics?

Ms. SANFORD: There's no question. You know, Mark is - he's a guy that has a very kind demeanor. He's very soft-spoken, he's got kind of a gentle spirit. He's somebody that I thought had very solid values, Biblically based and strong moral guiding principle, and yet there's just no question whatsoever - I can trace back - the unraveling of our marriage really began when he became a congressman.

And he ran what I can only describe as an incredibly principled campaign, based on the ideas. You know, he did things that no modern-day politicians do. He had a 30-page paper on why we needed to privatize Social Security, for example. And the strength, I think, it took over the years for him to stick to his political principles went hand in hand with the stroking of the ego that comes with people in high political office.

And the disconnect that comes from being placed immediately, in a transformational way, just, you know, overnight into an office where everybody wants access to you - not because you're a different person, but just because of the position you hold. And that's, you know, it's a tough load to carry. And it becomes that much more important that you remain grounded in your values. And over time - it becomes clear to me today - that he lost sight of those and became disconnected from the person that he originally was.

MONTAGNE: He has a very - and you say this - you know, a strong sense of right and wrong - black and white, as you put it - to the point where instead of renting an apartment, he ended up like, sleeping in his congressional office on a futon. And now the...

Ms. SANFORD: He's notorious for that and, I mean, there was nothing in his day-to-day life that led me to believe that he was crumbling from a values perspective in another area of his life. Because in his public life, everything he did was to a T, exactly true to what had originally campaigned on and true to really, the guy he is. This is a guy that can pinch a penny better than anybody I know and, you know, I mean, to his core. And so he lived it in all aspects of his campaign, all aspects of his political life.

MONTAGNE: There's a story you tell about you got, as a birthday gift, a promise of half a bicycle.

Ms. SANFORD: Oh yeah. I still have that card. He drew a card that has like, it had a picture of like, a man with balloons or something on the front and then inside there was a half a bike. I didn't quite understand that. I said, now what does this mean? He said, well, it's just half a bike and I'll get you the other half for Christmas - or something. And then I got another picture with half a bike for Christmas. And then he delivered the bike. It wasn't even a new bike. It was a $25, used, purple bike.

Now, was it really important to me that I get a new bike versus a - or a full bike versus a half a bike? No. At the end of the day, if I understood that this was who he was - and he did it in a sweet way with a cute little card and a note. I mean, it didn't offend me. So - because I grew to understand how deeply seated that frugality was in his psyche.

MONTAGNE: You have filed for divorce. I think a lot of people would want to know - and if you don't mind my asking - what is your relationship to Mark Sanford, your husband, right now?

Ms. SANFORD: You know what? One of our boys just had a birthday, and Mark and I together took the boys out for dinner, and we had a delightful time. And we went back to the house and had birthday cake and opened presents, and then he drove back to Columbia.

So, you know what, we are getting along beautifully, which is a choice on both of our parts. We are committed to being as compatible as we can be for the sake of our children.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Ms. SANFORD: Thank you, Renee.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Jenny Sanford is South Carolina's first lady. The memoir on her marriage to Governor Sanford is called "Staying True."

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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