Former congressman Mark Sanford announced Sunday that he will challenge President Trump in the 2020 Republican primary, becoming the third GOP contender in the race to unseat the incumbent.
Sanford made the announcement in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I am here to tell you now that I am going to get in,” he said.
“I think we need to have a conversation on what it means to be a Republican,” Sanford added. “I think that as a Republican Party, we have lost our way.”
The South Carolina Republican said he had been intending to announce his bid at a campaign event last week but decided to cancel it because of Hurricane Dorian. Sanford campaign spokeswoman Sarah Allred said Sunday that a formal kickoff event has yet to be planned.
Sanford, a former South Carolina governor who represented the state’s 1st Congressional District in the House until earlier this year, had been mulling a bid against the president for weeks.
He joins former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, who launched a bid against Trump in April seeking to appeal to traditional Republican voters, and former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh, who announced last month that he will challenge the president not from the center but from the right and on moral grounds.
Trump’s presidential campaign dismissed Sanford’s entry into the race.
“Irrelevant,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
The president remains immensely popular among Republican voters: According to a Monmouth University poll released last month, 84 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance. His highest recent approval mark among fellow Republicans was 88 percent in a Fox News poll of registered voters in early August.
Those numbers would suggest that, like other Trump challengers, Sanford has lower odds of actually defeating the president than of successfully criticizing him in a way that could affect the general election.
Limiting government spending was a key focus of Sanford’s time in public office. He has previously said he was motivated to consider a bid against Trump out of concern over the federal debt and deficit.
He reiterated that point Sunday, telling Fox News host Chris Wallace that “as a party, we’ve lost our way” on fiscal responsibility.
“The president has called himself the ‘King of Debt,’ has a familiarity and a comfort level with debt that I think is ultimately leading us in the wrong direction,” Sanford said.
He said his decision to challenge Trump is based on policy, not personal, reasons. But he took aim at the president’s leadership style, saying the country needs to have a conversation about the “degree to which institutions and political culture are being damaged by this president.”
Asked by Wallace whether he seriously thinks he has a chance of beating Trump, Sanford responded, “I’m saying, you never know.”
Sanford, however, has his own political baggage.
He is perhaps best known for the 2009 episode during which, as governor, he disappeared for nearly a week before reemerging to hold a tearful news conference at which he revealed an extramarital affair. Sanford’s staff had said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, but he had actually traveled to Argentina to be with his then-girlfriend María Belén Chapur, whom he described as his “soul mate.”
Sanford had previously served three terms in the House, and, after leaving the governor’s mansion in 2011, he ran for the House again and won, serving from 2013 to 2019. He was a frequent critic of Trump and, in 2018, lost his GOP primary after the president endorsed his opponent, state Sen. Katie Arrington, who lost in the general election to now-Rep. Joe Cunningham (D).
Asked about the 2009 Appalachian Trail episode, Sanford said Sunday that he went on an “apology tour” in his home state and ultimately won the support of voters, who elected — and reelected — him to Congress.
He also sought to use the incident to draw a contrast with Trump, arguing that he learned a lesson in humility, empathy and judgment after his mistake.
“In contrast to the president, when he says there’s not a single thing that he sort of regrets or apologizes for, I profoundly apologize for that,” Sanford said. “And I believe in the Christian model of repentance and renewal and a second chance.”
Sanford also faces a Republican Party that is making it more difficult for those who want to challenge Trump.
Republican officials in several states, including South Carolina, are moving to cancel their 2020 presidential primaries — putting a dent in the ability of Trump’s challengers to rack up delegates ahead of next year’s Republican National Convention.
And the Republican National Committee in May voted to eliminate its primary debate committee, a move that lessens the likelihood that Trump and his GOP opponents will face off in a public forum.