First, there was Bill Weld. Nobody took him seriously as a challenger to Donald Trump in 2020. Last time around, he ran on the Libertarian ticket. He’s from Massachusetts. Hardly in line with the GOP faithful—who support Trump anywhere from 72% (Gallup) to 94% (Trump). That number is not as amazing as it sounds. It’s similar to the support garnered by the last two incumbent Republican presidents at this point in the race. It’s expected. Weld is a fiscal conservative, but is socially progressive, both of which set him apart from Trump.
More troubling to Trump was when Joe Walsh jumped in. The former Tea Party representative has been a talk show host, so he knows how to speak. More importantly, he’s a staunch conservative, so he might appeal to a reasonable number of GOP members, even if he can’t pry them away from Trump. If he focuses on things like the exploding national debt, he might actually catch on with some. But his main thrust so far is that he is the same as Trump, but is just not as crude and offensive. It’s really Trump’s behavior—personality and actions—that brought Walsh into the race.
Now a third candidate has announced. Fox says former South Carolina Governor and US Representative Mark Sanford is running because he says the GOP has “lost its way.”
“I think we have to have a conversation about what it means to be a Republican,” Sanford told “Fox News Sunday,” claiming the party “has lost our way.”
Sanford specifically made reference to the debt, deficit and government spending. Other conservatives expressed concern about these issues when Trump helped Congress pass a spending bill that increases spending caps and suspends the debt ceiling, allowing for more government borrowing until July 31, 2021. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blasted his colleagues at the time, saying it “marks the death of the Tea Party movement in America.”
Sanford also challenged Trump’s tactics when it comes to trade, saying that engaging the world when it comes to trade is “one of the hallmarks of the Republican Party.”
Here’s the video of Sanford making his announcement, and a case for his candidacy, on Fox News Sunday:
Politico also quotes Sanford.
“One of the hallmarks of the Republican Party and the conservative movement has always been: How much do we spend?” Sanford said, offering a nod to the famed University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman.
The candidate also said he wants to shine a light on how “institutions and political culture are being damaged by this president.”
“A tweet is interesting. It may be newsworthy, but it’s not leadership,” he said. “We’re not going to solve some of the profound problems we have as Americans by tweet.”. . .
Sanford will have to pursue his battle against Trump without help from his home-state voters: South Carolina Republicans just canceled their 2020 presidential primary.
That’s the bizarre thing. Generally, candidates from a state are called “Favorite Son,” and they will often win their own state, even if they win nowhere else. So it’s a particular slight to Sanford not to allow him to run in his own State.
Reason gives additional debt info.
Sanford wrote on Twitter shortly after his announcement. “We, as a country, are more financially vulnerable than we have ever been since our Nation’s start and the Civil War. We are on a collision course with financial reality. We need to act now.”
Though it seems unlikely that Sanford will prevail against Trump—more on that in a moment—the entry of a candidate who wants to discuss the growing national debt and annual budget deficits should be welcomed. The national debt has ballooned from $19 trillion to more than $22 trillion under Trump’s watch, and the Congressional Budget Office says current policies have put the country on track for record-high levels of debt by the 2040s. . .
Sanford called Trump “king of debt”—repurposing a phrase Trump has used in the past to describe himself, positively, during his time as a real estate developer.
While Walsh complains about Trump’s crudeness, The Federalist says Sanford’s criticism is stronger, with the headline quoting Sanford, “Trump’s Personality Will Not Bring Down Our Republic, But Our Debt Will”
Former Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill.. . .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. . .
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. . .
“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.”
One problem for Sanford is his 2009 affair, according to the NY Post.
“I actually went on an apology tour if you want to call in that back home in the wake of that,” Sanford said when asked about the affair by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.
“I learned a level of humility, a level of empathy, that I didn’t have before, a level of judgment. It is something of great regret, it’s something that I’ve apologized extensively for,” he said.
In the pre-Trump era, Sanford’s affair would have been enough to kill his political career, but thanks to Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape (and other behavior), Sanford was able to win a US House seat in 2016. As Reason puts it—
That the thrice-married Trump, who has had at least one extra-marital affair with a porn star, has shown no reservations about attacking Sanford for his own infidelities provides a pretty good illustration of the current state of the GOP’s collective moral compass.
Sanford has actually been able to turn his own indiscretion to his favor, by comparing his response to criticism to Trump’s, who is famous for “doubling down” when he’s wrong, also according to the NY Post.
“And in contrast to the president, where he says there’s not a single thing he sort of regrets or apologizes.”
As a side note, Sanford and the woman with whom he had the affair talked about getting married, but broke up due to his being torn between her and his own children. If putting family first matters, that’s a plus for Sanford. The details are here.
Does it really make sense for a Republican to challenge Trump? Some say that while Trump has high support (though no more than the last two GOP presidents), Trump’s support is wide, but not deep. Part of that is that Republicans have not considered an alternative. But polling says almost half of Republicans would like to have challengers to Trump, again, according to The Federalist.
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.
The battle will be difficult as the Republican Establishment tries to shut down primaries and caucuses. But if the current candidates begin to catch on, you can expect a whole field, as in 2016, or in 2020 for Democrats. And if there are more candidates, they may pick Trump apart as Weld points to Trump’s gender and family abuses, Walsh picks on Trump’s personality and behavior, and Sanford tries to remind Republicans what “fiscal conservative” means.
However, even if the GOP bosses succeed in shutting down opposition candidates, we may still have more, because running gives one the publicity to go after a Fox News gig or another political office.