CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Mark Sanford, a former governor and congressman for South Carolina, is the third Republican to challenge President Donald Trump for the party’s presidential nomination. However, many consider his campaign a longshot as GOP committees in several states, including Sanford’s own, have decided to forgo a 2020 primary.
“You think of David and Goliath’s story. This is it, but I remind folks, David won in that particular battle,” Sanford told WCSC’s Kaitlin Stansell in a one-on-one interview just 48 hours after his official announcement that he would be running for president. “I think this is sort of a journey of faith for me.”
For Sanford, the biggest issue facing the nation is an impending financial storm he says will be sparked by increasing debt, deficits, and spending.
“We’re walking toward the most predictable financial hurricane in the history of our country,” Sanford said. “If we stay on the present course, I am absolutely convinced there will be damning consequences for our way of life, the American dream, our kids’ prospects, for our 401k plan, for our retirement plan, for all the things that go with the building of a life or a retirement.”
Trump responded Monday to Sanford’s claims that the debt right now is one of the reasons why people shouldn’t re-elect the president.
“Our military has been totally rebuilt. Almost completely rebuilt with new planes, which a lot of equipment made right here in NC,” President Trump said. “We have no choice but to rebuild our military, and we can start working on that very soon in terms of debt.”
However, Sanford maintained his opinion that the president has not addressed the nation’s debt as he promised voters when he was elected to the Oval Office.
“He was the one that said,'If you elect me, I will eliminate the debt in the 8 years that I might be in office.' Instead we are seeing record number of debt, record numbers of deficit, record numbers on spending, which again is the old time way of, say one thing and do another. That’s not draining the swamp,” Sanford said. “I personally believe something like the ‘penny plan’ makes a lot of sense…This bill puts to effect the power of compound interest in actually limiting government, and I think that’s a good start.”
Sanford made his presidential ambitions official just one day after the Palmetto State’s Republican committee voted to skip the 2020 primary. This is not the first time a presidential primary has been canceled in South Carolina.
SCGOP Chairman Drew McKissick said there is, as a general rule, no rationale for a party with an incumbent president in the White House to hold a primary.
However, Sanford argued the action is a disservice to South Carolinians and has denied Republicans in the Palmetto State the chance to have their voice heard in a larger national debate that comes along just once, every four years.
“This has always been South Carolina’s moment to be in the spotlight and making our voice heard as the ‘First in the South’ Republican primary. That’s not going to happen this year. I think it’s a mistake,” Sanford said. “It says that they must be worried about something.”
The SCGOP has maintained their confidence in Trump, calling Sanford’s challenge a “vanity project."
“Let’s be clear, this is about Mark Sanford looking to raise his political career from the grave, not him wanting to advance ideas,” McKissick said in a statement.
Sanford said he is disappointed in the decision to cancel the 2020 primary in his home state, but it won’t stop him from spending time with voters in the Palmetto State.
“If I’m looking for vanity. This is the wrong way to look for it because the idea of being a human pinata to Trump does not work out well for one’s vanity,” Sanford said. “He’s great at exploiting perceived weaknesses, or perceived foibles, or perceived deficiencies in other people, so I would say if I’m looking for vanity, this is the wrong way to look for it. What I would say is what I’m looking for is what I’ve said I’m looking for which is a chance and a way to elevate what I perceive to be an incredible financial storm that is coming our way that is going to hurt the people I know and love in the Lowcountry as well as across the state.”
Sanford was critical of the president’s rhetoric, and he argued that Trump’s tone is causing an identity crisis within the Republican party.
“There is a significant turn off with a lot of folks…because you can say the right thing but in the wrong tone. It doesn’t get the message across,” Sanford said. “We saw that right here in the 1st Congressional District. This district for the first time in about 50 years went Democrat, not because they disagree with the president on issues but because, in large part they disagreed with the way in which he delivered so many of those messages.”
Sanford believes the Republican party is suffering from “Trump fatigue.”
“Some of what’s occurring with the Republican party right now is at odds with traditional conservatism, Jeffersonian conservatism, and I think that’s a problem. I think some of what’s happening in the party right now, with regard to tone particularly, is turning off a lot of suburban women. It’s turning off a lot of millennials saying this is not consistent with what I’m trying to teach my kids or it’s not consistent with what my mom and dad were trying to teach me,” Sanford said. “It’s emanating from the White House with regard to the way in which Republicans are perceived, and we saw it right here in the 1st Congressional District. We saw it in a whole host of other districts across this country in the midterm elections, and most recently, you’ve seen it with a number of Republican retirements from the US Congress where in people could stay in but they’re leaving of their own volition. That should tell us something. It’s a giant wake-up call.”
Trump took a jab Sanford on Aug. 27.
Trump tweeted that he has a 94% approval rating with the Republican party and had “Three Stooges” running against him, including “'Mr. Appalachian Trail’ who was actually in Argentina for bad reasons..."
The statement’s reference to the Appalachian Trail refers to a trip then-Gov. Sanford made to Argentina in 2008 to visit the woman he said he met during a trade conference there.
During Sanford’s trip, his staff first claimed Sanford was away on a hiking trip of the trail. Sanford held a news conference at the Statehouse on June 24, 2009, in which he acknowledged being unfaithful to his wife.
However, the “Mr. Appalachian Trail” reference was not the first time Trump went after Sanford.
During a Columbia rally to endorse Henry McMaster for governor in 2018, Trump took a jab at Sanford’s extramarital affair, but referred erroneously to a different trail.
“The Tallahassee Trail – must be a beautiful place," Trump said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t go there.”
Sanford acknowledged his embattled relationship with the president and accepted that his past indiscretions would likely be a weakness the president would exploit.
When Sanford was asked whether that moment in his life would impact his credibility in his campaign, Sanford said Trump would most likely use it against him.
“I think the president will certainly attempt to make that the case, but it’s a rather humbling personal journey to go on," Sanford said."People back home who know you best say,'We don’t approve of that chapter of your life and how you handled it. You messed up, but we know you, and we trust you, and we’ll give you a second chance, and we’ll send you back to the United States House of Representatives to represent our view point in Washington, DC.' That’s a really, humbling journey to be on, and that’s the one I’ve traveled.”
Sanford touted his two terms as governor and six terms in Congress as valuable experience that has prepared him for what he called a “momentous” chapter in his political career.
“I would say those legislative, and political, and executive branch experiences have helped me to understand issues I think are confronting our society,” Sanford said. “And I’d say even the downs of my life, and there’s a big down and everybody knows about it, has helped me prepare for this moment because that chapter of life gave me an empathy and a level of humility that I think is important as we talk about ideas and how they impact other people.”
As Sanford moves forward with his presidential bid, he reflected on the first moment he considered a run for the Oval Office.
“This came up the day after my primary loss last June. A dear friend called, and he said, ‘Look, God just cleared your calendar for a reason, and I know what it is.’ I said, ‘I’m so glad you got the direct connect, fill me in.’ He said, ‘What you need to do is primer the president,’ and I said, ‘Are you completely out of your mind? That’s preposterous. And he went through his different reasons as to why, believing that we needed to have a conversation as Republicans as to what it means to be Republican,’” Sanford said.
He’s taking this campaign one day at a time and not forgetting the state that started his political career.
“Just out of raw respect, I’m still going to spend a lot of time in South Carolina because it’s home. These are folks that I’ve gotten to know over a long chapter of my life. These are folks that watched our four boys go from little toddlers to grown men,” Sanford said. “I’m going to spend time, whether there’s an electoral benefit or not, moving around South Carolina because this is home.”