Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford Extinguishes Lifeless Presidential Campaign

Former South Carolina congressman and governor, who'd been running on debt/deficits, says impeachment has sucked all the oxygen out of the room.


Two months ago, former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford launched what he acknowledged was a long shot primary challenge to President Donald Trump, in the hopes of sparking "a real conversation on debt and deficits and government spending." After 60 days of a national conversation about everything but, Sanford this afternoon put an end to his experiment in competitive fiscal conservatism.

"You've got to be a realist, and what I did not anticipate is an impeachment," the self-described libertarian Republican told reporters at the New Hampshire Statehouse.

While it's true that the House impeachment inquiry is dominating national political conversation, there's no evidence to suggest that Republicans (let alone campaign reporters) would otherwise be focusing on fiscal issues. The federal deficit in the just-completed fiscal year hit $984 billion, without any meaningful resistance from Sanford's former colleauges in the House Freedom Caucus.

Trump, who Sanford has been calling the "king of debt," has been systematically wiping out any hint of internal GOP competition. The South Carolina GOP canceled its third-in-the-nation primaries under heavy pressure from the Trump campaign literally the day before Sanford entered the race (the decision is being litigated). A half-dozen state Republican Party machines have already effectively declared their 2020 winners.

Such leg-sweeping tactics, in addition to the president's considerable popularity among Republicans (among whom his approval rating has not dipped below 87 percent all year), has led to some brutal disparities between the candidates. The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee (whose organizations have been unprecedentedly merged) raised a combined $125.7 million in the third quarter, compared to Sanford's $60,400. That's a ratio of 2,111 to 1.

Sanford has fared little better in the polls. The RealClearPolitics national polling average has the president with more than an 80-point lead: 85.4 percent, compared to 2.6 percent for former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, 2.2 percent for former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh, and 1.8 percent for Sanford.

"Mark Sanford's voice in the primaries will be missed," Weld said in a statement Tuesday. "A true fiscal conservative, he has advocated the common sense policies too seldom heard from Donald Trump or anyone else in Washington. It is shameful that the Trump-controlled South Carolina state party cancelled a primary in which Mark could have been a real factor."

So Sanford has gone from being a lonely Trump critic in the House GOP, to loser of a GOP primary to a Trump-backed candidate for his seat (which is now held by a Democrat), to long shot presidential challenger, to Republican roadkill. Might now be a time to seek a political party that shares his concern about the national debt and looming entitlement bomb?

I asked six Libertarian Party presidential candidates 10 days ago to name any major-party candidate then running for president who they'd most like see switch to the L.P. Only one—former 1996 vice presidential nominee and South Carolina resident Jo Jorgensen—named Sanford, saying: "Mark Sanford acted like a Libertarian through most of his political career, and a lot of people here were big fans even after his horrible indiscretion—the people of this state still elected him back to Congress. He's libertarian at heart, and while I commend Tulsi Gabbard for her good no-war stance, everything else about her is just wrong. I don't see any other libertarian leanings in her, but I do see many libertarian leanings in Mark Sanford."

(The "horrible indiscretion" in question was Sanford's infamous marital infidelity in 2009, which noted family-values pol Trump has occasionally mocked him for.)

While Sanford certainly has more political name recognition than any of the dozen or so declared Libertarian presidential candidates, he would (if at all interested) face the same skepticism that would greet any GOP-switcher. After three successive presidential nominations given to formerly elected Republicans, Libertarians are wary about going to that particular well a fourth consecutive time.

Whatever he decides to do with his own future, Sanford's parting message about ours is both sobering and necessary in 2019 America:

I am suspending my race for the Presidency because impeachment has made my goal of making the debt, deficit and spending issue a part of this presidential debate impossible right now. From day one, I was fully aware of how hard it would be to elevate these issues with a sitting president of my own party ignoring them. Impeachment noise has moved what was hard to herculean as nearly everything in Republican party politics is currently viewed through the prism of impeachment.

This is hardly a lens through which I want to look at things as I believe the debate of ideas is vital for both the conservative movement and for the American voter. What's needed here is simply a national conversation on whether or not we believe in math. Ours does not add up in Washington and continued denial here could end the American civilization and the dreams that come with it. Unfortunately, with impeachment the wagons are circled, tribes and allegiances are declared and this obliterates the chance to debate and address a host of critical issues.

More than anything we need a debate about our debt and how we pay for this political season's many grand promises and the ones already accumulated in Washington. We also need a robust debate on trade and tariffs, our belief in institutions, the President's tone and a whole lot more, but those things will not happen in a Republican primary embattled with impeachment.

Finally, I would like to thank the people of New Hampshire and people from across this country for the conversations we have had on the need for financial sanity. It's my hope and intention to find new ways to raise and elevate these vital themes.

NEXT: Elizabeth Warren Doesn’t Really Have a Plan to Pay for Medicare for All

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  1. Welch’s heart seems broken.

    1. Yeah, what a fool. There is no place in today’s GOP for any talk of such irrelevant matters like cutting spending, reducing the deficit, or addressing the national debt. There is a culture war to fight, damnit!

      1. Umm…

        “cutting spending, reducing the deficit, or addressing the national debt”

        Is the same thing. But it can’t be done without the House agreeing to cut entitlements. Sanford was not going to get that done. Stop celebrating your naivete.

        1. The President proposes the budget. Stop trying to excuse Trump’s runaway spending.

          1. And when the current president tried to propose budget cuts, Congress stopped him. Imagine that.

            1. +1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

          2. “The President proposes the budget.”

            The House then ignores it and passes whatever they want.

    2. Another Reason cover-boy crashes and burns.

  2. “the self-described libertarian Republican ”

    It;’s interesting that Reason has always called Amash libertarian even though an independent or a republican.

    1. Amash falls pretty legitimately into the libertarian category. His purity is always questioned, but there are plenty of people in the LP whose purity is questioned by the other wings of the party, so that seems par for the course. I wouldn’t consider Sanford to be a libertarian necessarily, but he’s definitely got about 70-80% of the positions. It might be a bit more, but I seem to recall his voting record has got some of that dumb early aughts red team social puritanism in it, which would be fairly disqualifying to the libertarian label if he stood by it.

      1. If by purity you mean he accomplishes nothing to advance libertarianism… sure.

        As far as actual purity… he’s kind of backing an attack by the IC to undo an election.

      2. Amash falls in the big-L Libertarian category: like the Libertarian Party, he talks about libertarianism, and like the Libertarian Party, he does sh*t to actually advance the cause of libertarianism.

  3. Argentina hardest hit.

  4. Weld! Weld! Weld! Weld! Weld! Weld! Weld! Weld!

    1. I agree. Weld is soooooooooo much better than Trump and the Democrats. He has my vot here in the NH primary.

    2. I think you forgot the /sarc tag, lol. I don’t despise Weld quite as much as some of the other members of the LP, but I like him a lot better when he’s not associated with us.

      1. Weld the establishment politician who pretends to be a Libertarian. I liked Gary Johnson but almost didn’t vote for him because of the Weld phony he chose.

      2. I despise both Weld and the LP.

  5. Any self respecting person who actually cares about the debt left the Republican party a long, long time ago. Hence why the orange menace has the high support he still does in the party.

    1. hmm….boeing and lockheed missed the memo about leaving the republican party.

      1. I don’t really understand this objection. Are you saying Boeing and Lockheed somehow care about the national debt? I suppose that money spent on interest is money they don’t get to siphon off through their cronyism, but I doubt they’re taking a very long view.

    2. Trump has the support he does because, all things considered, he is better than any of the alternatives. And I include the LP blowhards among those alternatives, even if they had a chance.

      1. +100000

  6. Doesn’t an impeachment proceeding HELP a primary opponent?

    The impeachment process is a political process that indicates a President’s popularity and political viability. The best indicator I have now that there’s no way Trump will be removed is that he doesn’t have any serious challengers in the primary. No republicans want to run against him, so it stands to reason that no Republicans will vote to remove him from office.

    1. >>Doesn’t an impeachment proceeding HELP a primary opponent

      if it’s a thing, maybe.

    2. Uh, it depends pretty heavily on why the impeachment is happening. In Nixon’s case (yes, he wasn’t technically impeached, but he resigned rather than face it so it counts people), he did something americans at the time (including republicans) thought crossed a line, and thus his support declined and offered an opportunity for challengers (though I don’t recall if Ford actually faced any serious contenders – seems like he should have, in retrospect).

      The other impeachments, though – including Andrew Jackson’s, which was probably the most roundly deserved impeachment in american history – all served to rally the base of the embattled president, shoring up their support. Basically, anyone who claims that impeachment is somehow muddled by partisanship has no sense of history, because nearly all of them have always been that way, and the design of impeachment (it’s a political process) pretty much guarantees rank partisanship from the outset. The two-thirds bar for the Senate is the assurance that you have to really screw the pooch in order to actually be removed. Everything else is just theater and political positioning.

      1. Nixon fell victim to changing standards and his own hubris and incompetence; prior presidents had gotten away with worse.

        Don’t get me wrong though: it was good that people finally stood up and opposed this crap. And his opposition was bipartisan.

        But Nixon’s conduct clearly was both impeachable and illegal. That’s why people were united against it. Trump’s conduct was clearly not illegal and shouldn’t be impeachable, that’s why impeachment is backfiring.

  7. I don’t see running on the deficit (unless it’s the magic trade deficit) as being a winner. It means taking away free shit.

    1. I think it can work. But it has to be a harshly generational message – and that also means focusing on the other intergenerational issues – environment, etc.

      There is imo an opportunity for a Libertarian to frame the idea as generational sovereignty or intergenerational liberty/NAP. DeRps cannot do this. They have too many incumbents to protect. Only the G’s and L’s can do it. And they have to do it immediately at this point.

      1. That was my thinking, too. Breaking the dependency on Social security has to come with turning millenials on the boomers before millenials get too far dependent on it themselves.

        Break the millenial dependence now and in a few years you can can the entire social security BS as you sell the then ascendant Millenials on lower taxes at the expense of the weakening boomers.

  8. But he gets to keep the big check, right?

    1. Nope, Blizzard is returning it to their Chinese masters.

  9. So Sanford has gone from being a lonely Trump critic in the House GOP to loser.


  10. What I’m discovering about ‘candidates for office’ (and for that matter billionaires) is that they really aren’t political operatives. With only a very few exceptions (Obama, Dean, BushSr, etc). The latter can build a political party. The former need an already existing party to coordinate the parade for them.

    What the LP needs for candidate is a political operative.

    1. Let’s dig up Machiavelli, he was suitably cynical.

      1. I’d settle for someone who spends the entire campaign on college campuses and at HS selling students in govt classes on a)a libertarian approach to the issues of most interest to Z’s and b)recruits them to build an actual political party at the county level which is a hell of a lot more impressive on a resume than some scut volunteer work on someone else’s campaign.

        Steal the entire generation of under-30’s from the DeRps – to build for FUTURE elections.

        1. I’d love to see an LP chair with more of a focus on this. I think Sawark is fine, but I think he’s too giddy chasing those 3%+ national votes to realize we could be a lot freer if we turned our focus down into the dirt of local politics. Particularly, we gotta find some way to turn up some quality candidates, and mount some real campaigns for them. If we could offer several thousand students across the country the opportunity to work the campaigns of people who effectively communicate why libertarian ideas make people freer, happier, and better off, think about how that experience could bleed out into the country.

          1. What state are you in? It’s gonna be the state chapters that drive this sort of effort. Only thing LP national could/should do is offer an infrastructure for them to share info/ideas and build on a knowledge base. Or that’s exactly what a political operative type candidate would do and then hand it over to them.

          2. I’m curious what libertarianism looks like locally. Is it predominantly zoning? There must be more to it than that as property owners are huge demographic to beat back.

    2. Don’t you blindly support Amash? You are literally supporting purity in libertarians that refuse to compromise even one inch. They’d rather take no steps than a small step towards liberty. Politicians actually have to compromise every now and then.

    3. What the LP needs is to go away: they are ineffective and stupid.

  11. Former South Carolina congressman and governor, who’d been running on debt/deficits, says impeachment has sucked all the oxygen out of the room.

    You know who else sucked all the oxygen out of a room?

    1. Quaid?

    2. the corpse of hillary clinton ?

  12. ╔════╗───────────────╔═══╦═══╦═══╦═══╗─╔╗╔╗╔╗

    1. Yuck. How can you support that sick bastard?

      1. He pays attention to policy and actions rather than icky words.

        1. +1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

  13. lifeless political career.

    1. “I swear, honey, my political career was never like this before!”

    2. Him, Amash, Flake, and the corpose of McCain almost have enough for a pick up game at the Rec Center. Maybe Romney can complete the set.

  14. “From now on, all my running will be on the Appalachian Trail.”

  15. While it’s true that the House impeachment inquiry is dominating national political conversation

    Funny how that works.

    DANCE, blue checkmarks, DANCE!

  16. Garbage R that talked up personal and fiscal responsibility and didnt have anything to back it up.

    Unfortunately while the debt is actually important, he and his ilk are representative only of those that shouted the loudest about the problem and hypocritically continued to make it worse.

    1. Maybe the Germans can bail us out? They owe us one.

    2. Sanford actually voted the way he talked, though. It’s what earned the ire of McConnell and got him into Trump’s crosshairs. I don’t think the dude is perfect on everything – he’s got an R after his name so I’m sure some of it is terrible – but specifically on budgets and the national debt he preached fiscal restraint and voted for it. The rest of his party lost its mind, so his votes were for naught, but I’m not gonna hold him to account for the actions of some other lunatics.

      1. It’s easy to just say no to everything. How much did he actually accomplish?

      2. Voting isn’t how policy gets made and changed, negotiating is, and Sanford (like Amash) was a failure.

  17. FY 2019 deficit was 1.067 trillion.

    1. As predicted in 2016 by the CBO….

      Because of automatic growth increases to government (baseline budgeting) and entitlements.

  18. and the national debt not including social security is 21.4 trillion.

    1. US national Debt Clock

      This has all sorts of good info on how government is out of control.

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  20. So who is the Libertarian or at least Libertarian leaning candidate? There currently are none that can make an impact. Amash hurt his influence by resigning from his committee and joining the democrats in chasing windmills.
    Let’s face facts here, Libertarians are getting their butts kicked and the only thing Reason advances is a gripe fest that accomplishes nothing.

    1. The most little-l libertarian leaning candidate is Trump. He is no libertarian, to be sure, but he has been reducing regulations and appointing more originalist judges.

      He can’t do much about spending sadly.

    2. Trump is the most Libertarian-ish President in over 80 years.

      The fact that most reason staff hates Trump illustrates how Libertarian-ish Trump is.

  21. Trying to imagine which Republican could primary Trump and make it competitive is a challenge. Not saying he needs to be primaried, but generally I support competitive primaries. Especially for sitting presidents who need competition to stay sharp. Luckily for Trump, the media has been attacking him consistently so he has had to stay sharp on messaging whereas other incumbent presidents traditionally get to form a bubble of complacency with the media and the public. Think of Obama and Bush and how both were very weak in their first reelection debate because they were rusty.

    The problem is I don’t think there is any Republican that can mount an effective challenge. No Pat Buchanan out there right now.

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