Mark Sanford, the libertarian-leaning Republican congressman from South Carolina, driven from elected office after being primaried in June by a White House-backed immigration hawk who went on to lose to a Democrat in November, published a congressional farewell message to his Facebook page yesterday so unrelentingly grim in its outlook that it included this disclaimer: "I want to be clear and explicit that I am not likening Trump to Hitler."
That was the good news. The bad? "[F]orces at play could lead to a future Hitler-like character if we don't watch out."
Sanford, a former governor who was once thought of as limited-government presidential material until his infamous 2009 dalliance not quite on the Appalaichan Trail, has been since 2013 one of a dwindling number of anti-spending hardliners in the House GOP caucus. He has been allergic to Donald Trump from first contact, calling the then-candidate in July 2016 "long on hyperbole and short on facts." The president returned the disfavor by endorsing primary challenger Katie Arrington, calling Sanford "very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA," then dunking on Sanford in front of his congressional colleagues after Arrington won.
Unsurprisingly, Sanford devotes considerable portions of his long and discursive message to the national debt, warning ominously that, "We are riding on the Titanic as it now stands. This will end tragically for all of us, if we don't turn our spending habits around." More in that vein:
Math always works. Professors Reinhart and Rogoff spoke eloquently to this theme in their book "This Time Is Different." Over the 800 years of financial history that they studied, it never was different. In every instance, the civilization in question found itself confronting the same math that our country now faces, and the politicians inevitably answered "this time is different" when talking about the math behind their debt burden. The political answer brought with it the seeds of destruction, and if we simply accept the political answer of more spending—that this administration and past administrations have proffered, we will face the same fate of those now extinct civilizations.
I believe that we are marching our way toward the most predictable financial and economic crisis in the history of our republic. If we don't change course soon, markets will do it for us, and the consequences will be damning with regard to future inflation, the value of the dollar, the worth of our savings, and ultimately our way of life.
In Sanford's reading, fiscal irresponsibility and an increasingly ponderous state are driving voters into the arms of populists. "Because as open political systems become cumbersome and inefficient, inevitably a strong man comes along and offers easy promises," he wrote. "He says that he can take care of it for us. People desperate for a change accept his offer. They have to give up a few freedoms in the equation to get more security. It doesn't work out so well[.]"
Sanford is explicit about seeing the president as a threat, spending two paragraphs bemoaning the use of the term "fake news," and warning that "Open political systems cannot survive in a post-truth world."
So what's next for Sanford? "It's still completely up in the air," he told the Greenville News earlier this month. Libertarian Party officials have reached out to Sanford in the past, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see some try to scare up a non-anarchistic challenger to Bill Weld for the party's 2020 presidential nomination. Certainly, his congressional goodbye doesn't sound like a politician going gently into that good night.
"We seem to flirt with populism about every hundred years in this country, and it seems we are in our latest courtship given the era of Trump," Sanford says. "But a cult of personality is never what our Founding Fathers intended. We in fact were to be a nation of laws and not men."