A former South Carolina governor is such a critic of President Donald Trump that he is mulling running against him in Republican primaries in 2020.
But if comes down to a race between Trump and a Democrat, Mark Sanford says the choice is straightforward.
“Yeah, I’m a core Republican,” Sanford said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” pledging support for the president in that scenario. “Everything is relative in politics.”
Sanford was responding to a question from the Sunday morning news program’s host Chuck Todd, who asked if the South Carolina Republican would vote for Trump in an election against former Vice President Joe Biden.
After making his case why Trump doesn’t deserve a second term as president, he didn’t hesitate in picking him over any Democrat who might emerge from a crowded field of candidates.
Sanford explained that a Democrat would be worse than the president when it comes to the deficit and spending. That area is a pillar of his campaign against Trump, who he said doesn’t deserve a second term in the White House and is “taking us in the wrong direction.”
“I think we’ve lost our roots as Republicans, and there needs to be a conversation about what it means to be a Republican,” Sanford says in video of the interview. “What do we believe in terms of trade? This has been a radical departure in terms of what Republicans have traditionally believed in.
“What do we believe on the growth of government? Spending and deficits? Radical departure on that front.”
Sanford said he is weighing a potential challenge to the president in the primaries to start a conversation about ideas, admitting he doesn’t have a good chance of unseating Trump.
He said he would not welcome the abuse he would receive should he run against the president, comparing himself to a “human piñata.”
But it would not be the first time Sanford has been the target of Trump’s scorn.
While appearing in South Carolina to campaign for Henry McMaster, the current governor, Trump turned his attention to Sanford.
Sanford is “a guy I’ve never liked much,” Trump told the crowd at Airport High School, The State reported.
Then he dug in, noting Sanford’s infamous scandal while he was serving his final term as governor.
“Tallahassee Trail, it must be a very beautiful place. Unfortunately, he didn’t go there,” Trump said to the crowd.
Trump likely meant the Appalachian Trail, where Sanford said he was hiking when it turned out he was actually in Argentina having an extramarital affair in 2009.
Prior to that, Trump endorsed Katie Arrington, who upset Sanford in the S.C. 1st District Republican primary. Arrington ultimately lost in the general election to Joe Cunningham, but on Sunday Sanford agreed that the president’s influence likely cost him his chance at re-election.
After Sanford’s loss in the primary, the president called him “a nasty guy” in a meeting with House Republicans, according to CNN.
That prompted Sanford to say his dynamic with Trump is not “a feud” — instead calling it “assault,” postandcourier.com reported.
Having his past dredged up in the national spotlight is one reason Sanford might choose to not officially challenge Trump, telling Todd he’s concerned about the impact that might have on his four sons.
But his fears for the future of the Republican Party that his children will inherit are motivating Sanford to speak out against the president.
“Where are we going as a Republican Party in terms of what comes next? Sanford said on the program. “The Republican Party has ... gone off the tracks. We have a cult of personality right now that is at odds with the people who’ve worked for years and years in trying to make a difference in advancing the conservative cause.”
Sanford did not commit to a date for making an announcement on a campaign but told Todd it could come by Labor Day. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is currently the only Republican mounting a campaign against Trump, CNN reported.
Should he challenge Trump, Sanford does not have the backing of the Republican Party in South Carolina.
“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, The State reported.