Politics & Government

Will Mark Sanford make a 2020 run against Donald Trump? SC GOP says take a hike

Former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford is considering a 2020 primary run against President Donald Trump.

The South Carolina Republican Party’s take? Take a hike — on the Appalachian Trail, to be precise.

“The last time Mark Sanford had an idea this dumb, it killed his Governorship. This makes about as much sense as that trip up the Appalachian trail,” said S.C. GOP chairman Drew McKissick.

McKissick was referring to the time that Sanford, in his second term as governor in 2009, initially told his staff he was away hiking the Appalachian Trial but was actually on an extramarital tryst with an Argentinian woman. Sanford would go on to serve six years in Congress, sitting in the 1st District seat he originally held for three terms in the 1990s.

Sanford confirmed to The State on Tuesday he will decide within the next month whether he’ll try to take on Trump. The news was first reported by The Post and Courier.

Trump and Sanford have a tense relationship that reached a fever pitch when Sanford was running for re-election to the U.S. House in 2018. In retaliation for Sanford’s frequent expressions of disagreement — even displeasure — with the president, Trump retaliated by endorsing Sanford’s Republican opponent, former state Rep. Katie Arrington, on Twitter on the day of the GOP primary. Arrington defeated Sanford that night but ultimately lost in the 2018 general election to now-U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, a Democrat.

Following Sanford’s defeat, Trump proceeded to mock Sanford at campaign rallies around the country, even in South Carolina when he appeared at an event for Gov. Henry McMaster. Still, Trump’s standing with the state’s Republican establishment has only grown stronger over the past year. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is a frequent golf partner of the president and has become one of his staunchest allies on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, when asked what he thought of Sanford exploring a presidential bid, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., declined to comment.

Sanford could decide to move forward without any major in-state allies.

But in an interview with The State on Tuesday, Sanford vehemently denied that he was running against Trump out of revenge, or as a way of taking a stand against Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric that Sanford, while in office, often decried as helping to unleash “inner demons” in the American public.

He insisted he was only, at this point, driven to consider a presidential bid out of his lifelong anxiety about the rising national debt, which has ballooned under the Trump administration and is not, Sanford said, being sufficiently debated among the two dozen Democratic candidates for president.

“I’ve been upfront about what I’ve said” about Trump, said Sanford. “I’ll say what I have to say. But that is not the purpose here.”

Sanford said his allies told him “the presidential platform is the loudest microphone in town and you ought to do it. It affords a level of confrontation that simply starting an advocacy group does not. So we’ll take it one day at a time and see.”

Asked whether he was implying his presidential bid would be just to make a point and not to actually win, Sanford demurred: “Let me take one step at a time.”

Underscoring the extent to which Sanford is undecided on his next steps, he said he has not had serious conversations yet with the operatives and consultants who would help him develop the infrastructure to run a presidential campaign.

He did, however, say that his phone has been ringing “nonstop” since Tuesday morning, with some of those calls coming from those who might like to work for him.

Sanford said he is currently working out of a “cubby hole” office staffed by two volunteers. Scott English, his longtime on-again off-again senior adviser, is not one of them.

“I think it’s time for Mark Sanford to pass the torch to somebody else,” English told The State.

If Sanford were to run to make a point, such a move would not be unprecedented in South Carolina.

Four years ago, Graham launched a bid for the Republican nomination to elevate national security issues in the GOP debate. During the campaign and up until Trump’s election in 2016, he also was a vocal critic of Trump. Graham dropped out in December 2015.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.
Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.