Republican Mark Sanford is well aware he is a mega-longshot for the White House as he challenges a reelection-seeking President Donald Trump. Still, he thinks his candidacy offers an opportunity to have “a robust conversation on what it means to be a Republican.”
“I think under this administration and this president we have lost our way on a variety of fronts,” Sanford said during an interview with the Quad-City Times on Friday ahead of a brief campaign stop in Davenport, adding: “(Being a Republican) used to be about this notion of financial sanity. What you see under this administration is debt and deficits and government spending spiraling upward without commentary.
“The president’s called himself the king of debt,” he added. “And at critical moments in his life, his daddy stepped in and bailed him out. Well, that’s not going to be afforded to the rest of us as taxpayers.”
Sanford, long a fierce Trump critic, is a former governor and congressman from South Carolina and one of three Republicans challenging Trump in 2020. Four states, including Sanford’s home state, have moved to cancel their primary contests altogether as Trump is still supported overwhelmingly among fellow Republicans and expected to remain the GOP’s nominee.
Sanford crossed through the first-in-the-nation caucus state by way of Davenport on Friday afternoon. It’s part of an 11-state, 3,500-mile campaign swing dubbed the “Kids, We’re Bankrupt and We Didn’t Even Know It” tour that began in Philadelphia on Wednesday and is bound for Los Angeles.
With a novelty $1 trillion check made out to “Burden of Future Generations” as a prop, Sanford wants to “elevate” a conversation about the national deficit. Part of his tour included a media availability with local reporters at 4th Street and River Drive, where he posed with the big prop.
Under Trump, who promised to eliminate the deficit within eight years in office, the national deficit has grown by nearly 70%, according to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office earlier this month. Conversations about the national deficit get no attention on the other side of the political aisle as several Democrats are also seeking their party’s nomination, Sanford said. And he thinks the subject is “worthy of debate.”
“We have an incredible financial storm coming,” he added. “It’s gonna rock people’s boats here in this part of the world and across this country.”
Sanford's status as a Trump critic cost him politically last year when he lost his bid for another term representing South Carolina’s congressional district that covers Charleston. Trump endorsed his opponent and Sanford was defeated in the primary. In the general election, the congressional district turned blue for the first time in decades with the election of Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham.
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Beyond the national deficit, Sanford is concerned with the “tone” Trump uses and thinks the political consequences of him on the ballot in 2020 will be felt by other Republicans across the country.
“Either we can be proactive about it as Republicans or we can wait and just mop up the pieces," he said. "What he’s doing right now is unbelievably destructive to marginal Senate seats and to the few marginal House seats that still remain.” Sanford also said what Trump is doing to his own political prospects is “beyond weird,” saying there is a level of “Trump fatigue” beginning to set in.
“Reality shows are fun to watch,” Sanford said. “They’re just not fun to be a part of.”
The other two Republicans challenging the Trump presidency are Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman, and Bill Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts. Walsh spoke with the Quad-City Times amid his swing through eastern Iowa earlier this week, saying he voted for Trump in 2016 but fears “the country will implode” if the president is elected to a second term.