Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican whose once-promising political career suffered setbacks over the last decade, said Tuesday he may make a 2020 primary run against President Donald Trump.
As a House member, Sanford had been a rarity within the GOP ― an outspoken critic of the president. That earned him Trump’s wrath and, with the president endorsing his opponent, Sanford lost the GOP primary last year as he sought reelection.
If he commits to the presidential race, Sanford would join former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld as a long-shot primary challenger to Trump, who polls show has maintained strong backing from the GOP’s rank and file.
“Sometimes in life you’ve got to say what you’ve got to say, whether there’s an audience or not for that message,” Sanford told the Charleston, South Carolina-based Post and Courier, which first reported his potential candidacy.
Sanford, who also served as his state’s governor, said that as a presidential candidate, he would focus on tackling the nation’s growing debt, the deficit and government spending ― issues he contends leaders in both parties are ignoring.
“I think that we’re walking our way into one heck of a financial storm and there’s no discussion,” he told CNN.
Amid the ongoing controversy Trump created with racist weekend tweets targeting four Democratic congresswomen of color, Sanford added that “more than enough commentary” has concerned the president’s conduct. His aim as a candidate would be to drive discussion on fiscal policy, he said.
Sanford, 59, first won election to the House in 1994, then won the governorship in 2002. After winning reelection in 2006, he was widely mentioned by analysts as a potentially strong contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. But Sanford took a pass on that race, and his second gubernatorial term ended in turmoil.
In mid-2009, he dropped from public sight for a week in 2009, telling his staff he would be hiking along the Appalachian Trail. It was later discovered that he had traveled to Argentina to engage in an extramarital affair. He faced bipartisan threats of impeachment, but the state lawmakers ultimately chose not to remove him from office.
Though many assumed his political career had ended, he re-emerged by winning a special election for a House seat in 2013. He easily won reelection in 2014 and 2016 but, upon Trump becoming president, Sanford’s willingness to criticize both some of his policies and his style hurt him politically.
Trump took to Twitter to scorn Sanford as “very unhelpful,” and “nothing but trouble” on the day of the 2018 Republican primary in South Carolina, and he lost to state Rep. Katie Arrington. In an upset, Arrington then lost the November election to Democrat Joe Cunningham.
Sanford’s potential presidential run drew immediate criticism from Drew McKissick, head of South Carlina’s Republican Party.
“The last time Mark Sanford had an idea this dumb, it killed his Governorship,” McKissick said in a statement. “This makes about as much sense as that trip up the Appalachian trail.”
The state’s Democratic Party, on the other hand, welcomed his possible candidacy.
“We look forward to seeing Mark on the trail,” the party said on Twitter. Referring to Trump’s history of womanizing, the statement added, “Always nice to see a candidate with fewer extramarital affairs than the president.