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Mark Sanford considering primary challenge to Donald Trump

Sanford lost his primary in 2018 after Trump came out against him

Former Rep. Mark Sanford is considering a run for president. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, who lost in a 2018 Republican primary after President Donald Trump endorsed his opponent, is contemplating challenging the president.

Sanford will make his decision about running for president over the next month, he told the Charleston Post and Courier Tuesday. He said his goal is to drive a conversation about the national debt and government spending. 

“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 Post and Courier. “I feel convicted.”

Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who recently declared his independence from the Republican party, expressed support for a Sanford presidential bid on Twitter Tuesday morning. Only one other Republican, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, has announced a primary challenge to Trump.

Sanford, a member of the Freedom Caucus when he was in Congress, became the second incumbent to lose in 2018. He’d been an outspoken critic of the president’s rhetoric and policy, and his primary opponent, state Rep. Katie Arrington, tried to use that against him in the 1st District. Late in the afternoon of the June primary, Trump tweeted that Sanford was “unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA.”

At the time, then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the leadership of the Freedom Caucus broke with Trump to stand with Sanford. 

Arrington went on to win the primary in a district Trump carried by nearly 11 points in 2016. But she lost the general election to Democrat Rep. Joe Cunningham, who had picked up support of several Republican mayors in the area because of his opposition to offshore drilling. 

Sanford was first elected to the House in 1994. After serving three terms, he later served as governor for eight years. But his tenure was marred by his disappearance for several days in 2009. His office said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail but he was actually visiting his mistress in Argentina. Both Trump and Arrington invoked that scandal when attacking Sanford in 2018. 

Sanford launched a comeback bid for his old House seat, winning in a 2013 special election. He beat back a competitive primary challenger in 2016. 

Sanford has been outspoken against the president, disagreeing with the administration on tariffs and offshore drilling. He’s said Trump was “partially to blame” for the kind of incivility that led to the shooting at the GOP congressional baseball team’s practice in 2017.

Sanford has frequently criticized his own party when it comes to spending.

“I’m a Republican. I think the Republican Party has lost its way on debt, spending and financial matters,” he told the Post and Courier on Tuesday.

Perhaps most notably for his coastal South Carolina district, he’s also split with his party on the human contributions to climate change. “I believe human activity is having a measurable effect on the environment,” he wrote in a 2007 Washington Post op-ed.   

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