Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who is preparing a possible primary challenge against President Donald Trump, said Tuesday that the nation’s financial outlook is more troubling than the president’s unconventional style in office.
“I think the spending issue is bigger than Trump’s personality,” Sanford told The Federalist in an exclusive interview. “Certainly he has a big personality,” Sanford said, but he made clear that “at the end of the day, I don’t think his personality can bring down our republic. I think our debt will.”
Sanford, who is traveling to Iowa for a two-day trip this week, said he is “much” closer to running for president than he was when he first made the idea public just over than a month ago, and that the nation’s debts and deficits would be at the center of the campaign.
“The reception has been more embracing than I thought it might have been,” Sanford said of the response to his rolling out the idea in July.
Former Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., on the other hand, who officially entered the race Sunday, said his campaign would take aim at the president’s character flaws, highlighting Trump’s moral failings and hammering away at the president’s lies in office.
“He lies every time he opens his mouth,” Walsh repeated twice during his interview on ABC’s “This Week” announcing his candidacy.
Sanford, however, said he would steer away from attacking the president’s character, arguing that enough voters are more concerned about the country’s dark fiscal outlook than they are of Trump’s composure.
“They’re still out there,” Sanford said of voters who care deeply about the nation’s finances, adding that he has been “struck” by the number of people in recent weeks encouraging him to run. “They may just be quieter than they’ve been in the past. … It’s my belief that based on those conversations over my 25 years in politics that those people are still out there.”
Whether there’s room for a Republican challenger to run on restoring fiscal responsibility, however, remains to be seen, and Sanford said that if not enough people care about bringing discipline to the nation’s checkbook, he would not be a candidate for long.
“If I’m wrong, then the campaign will be short-lived,” Sanford said.
The United States is indeed facing a deepening budget crisis each year with ballooning deficits and a national debt totaling more than $22.5 trillion, with no signs of slowing down.
While the Republican Party used to be the party of fiscal responsibility, the nation’s debt and deficits have only gotten worse under the Republican administration, passing tax cuts that fell far short of their projected revenue streams, leading to a deeper crisis.
Sanford, who most recently served in Congress before losing a primary as the incumbent representative to a Trump-endorsed challenger, wants the Republican Party to return to its roots of championing fiscal conservatism. Sanford developed a reputation, during his time as governor and as a congressman, as a budget hawk keen on reducing spending and closing the deficits.
“It used to be a centerpiece of what the Republican Party and what the conservative movement is about,” Sanford said of fiscal responsibility. “We quit talking about it and focusing on it.”
Sanford said he is not considering an independent run and that his goal is to improve the Republican Party by restoring its values of fiscal leadership. The former South Carolina governor voiced his frustration that while the Democrats are having a debate on “more versus more” this cycle, there is no such dialogue happening among Republicans. “I don’t think that’s healthy for the Republican Party.”
If Sanford were to run, he would join Walsh, who served one term in the House of Representatives before pursuing conservative talk radio, and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld in taking on Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Other potential candidates publicly exploring a possible primary challenge include former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
A Monmouth University poll released Thursday shows Trump with an 84% approval rating among Republicans. Many Republicans, however, are friendly to the idea of Trump facing a competitive primary challenger. A Hill-HarrisX survey in June showed that 44% of Republicans wanted to see Trump face a serious primary challenge going into next year’s elections.
Sanford said he would decide on a presidential run by Labor Day.