Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is traveling in Iowa this week, testing the waters for a possible presidential run. He’d be joining two other candidates challenging President Donald Trump in the Republican primary for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
While he hasn’t announced, Sanford told The Federalist earlier this week that he is “much” closer to running than when he first made the idea public just more than a month ago. He also said he would make his decision by next week.
“The reception has been more embracing than I thought it might have been,” Sanford said.
As he gets closer to launching a presidential bid, Sanford said he would avoid making personal attacks against the president and would instead make the country’s ballooning debts and deficits the centerpiece of his campaign.
“I think the spending issue is bigger than Trump’s personality,” Sanford said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think his personality can bring down our republic. I think our debt will.”
Trump however, held no such restraint this week in attacking Sanford on Twitter, touting his approval rating among Republicans while labeling the former South Carolina governor and congressman “Mr. Appalachian Trail.” The nickname references Sanford’s extramarital affair as governor. While claiming to be hiking the Appalachian Trail, Sanford was traveling in South America with an Argentinian mistress.
Can you believe it? I’m at 94% approval in the Republican Party, and have Three Stooges running against me. One is “Mr. Appalachian Trail” who was actually in Argentina for bad reasons….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2019
Sanford, who lost a primary as the incumbent U.S. representative to a Trump-endorsed challenger last year, stayed true to his plan not to get into personal mudslinging with Trump by diverting attention back to the financial problems plaguing the country.
“So ready for a President that can move beyond either self praise or put down to one who will focus on the debt & deficit that have gone wild under his time in office,” Sanford wrote back. “Spending 27% above Obama & deficits even higher. It’s time for a change.”
So ready for a President that can move beyond either self praise or put down to one who will focus on the debt & deficit that have gone wild under his time in office. Spending 27% above Obama & deficits even higher. It’s time for a change. https://t.co/oghlZQxAfL
— Mark Sanford (@MarkSanford) August 28, 2019
Former U.S. representative Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), on the other hand, has made clear that personal attacks against the president will be the focus of his strategy, repeatedly declaring Trump “unfit” for the Oval Office.
“He lies every time he opens his mouth,” Walsh said again and again on ABC’s “This Week” when announcing his presidential candidacy on Sunday. “I’m running because he’s [Trump’s] unfit; somebody needs to step up and there needs to be an alternative. The country is sick of this guy’s tantrum – he’s a child.”
Yet Walsh has had a rough start to his presidential campaign this week after past racist comments emerged from recent years as a conservative political commentator on the radio and online. Walsh was once pulled off the radio in 2014 for using racial slurs, and in 2017, Walsh said the standard was lower for President Barack Obama because the president was black.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) March 28, 2017
Many in the media have asked Walsh about his own past comments, particularly because Walsh has labeled Trump a racist in recent years.
“I think that we all, if we’re being honest – white, black and brown – we’ve all got a little bit of racism in us,” Walsh said to the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake.
I asked Joe Walsh to explain his comment that "I wouldn’t call myself a racist, but I’ve said racist things on Twitter.”
Here's what he said: pic.twitter.com/8JH4svK3Fe
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) August 26, 2019
Meanwhile former Ohio governor John Kasich seemed to quell speculation of a possible primary bid this week, telling John Berman on CNN that he sees no path to beating Trump in the Republican primary right now.
“I don’t see the path right now,” Kasich said. But the 2016 presidential candidate who is now a CNN senior political commentator kept the door open to a possible challenge in the future. “That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be a path down the road, but right now, I don’t see it.”
In 2016, Kasich finished fourth in the Republican primary, and while every other candidate in the race ultimately supported Trump in the general election, Kasich refused, breaking a pledge made at the first Republican debate of the cycle in Cleveland to endorse the eventual nominee. In the final days leading up to the election, Kasich publicly declared that he wrote in the party’s 2008 nominee, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld announced his candidacy for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination earlier this year but has yet to gain significant traction among voters, consistently polling more than 70 points behind Trump. Weld ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 2016 with former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.
Trump enjoys overwhelming support among Republicans, giving any primary challenger a steep uphill battle against an incumbent president of his own party. In addition, only five incumbent presidents in American history have ever lost their party’s presidential nomination, each time in the 19th century.
A Monmouth University poll published last week shows Trump with an 84 percent approval rating among Republicans. Many Republicans, however, want Trump face a serious primary challenger. A Hill-HarrisX survey conducted in June revealed that 44 percent of Republican voters want to see a primary emerge, 12 percentage points higher than Democrats who wanted to see President Obama compete in a competitive primary in 2012.