President Trump may be up by more than 80 percentage points over his three GOP presidential primary challengers in a new Fox News poll, but the way Mark Sanford sees it, someone in Trump’s reelection team is “scared.”
Sanford, the former GOP South Carolina governor and congressman, launched his extreme long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination earlier this month, joining former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois.
As Sanford was getting in the race, his home state was getting out. Republicans in South Carolina, which holds the first southern primary in the White House race, cancelled their presidential nominating contest. They joined Nevada – which votes third in the calendar just ahead of the Palmetto State – and Kansas.
“I think somebody in his (Trump’s) organization is scared, which is why you squash these nominating contests,” Sanford said in an interview with Fox News. “Otherwise it makes no sense because if you have a chance to lock in a 90 percent win in the world of politics, you do so.”
But Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told Fox News earlier this month the reelection campaign had nothing to do with the cancellation of the contests. “These are decisions made entirely by state parties, and there are volumes of historical precedents to support them,” he said.
And he also emphasized that “President Trump will dominate and prevail in whatever contest is placed before him."
The president’s also dismissed and belittled his three primary challengers, labeling them the “Three Stooges.”
In a candid moment in July – when he said he was mulling a White House bid – Sanford told Fox News, “I always like to be real, and I don’t think anybody’s going to beat Donald Trump. That’s my personal opinion.”
Two months later, Sanford sounds less fatalistic.
Asked the same question – whether the incumbent president, who’s extremely popular among most Republicans, could possibly be beat in the GOP primaries – Sanford said, “We’re at the beginning of the process. We’ll find out. I mean that’s what contests are about… you just never know in the world of politics."
And he pointed to his first election for Congress and for governor, noting he was an extreme underdog at the start of those campaigns.
Sanford, a devout fiscal conservative, was a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus during his second stint in Congress. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, the incoming Freedom Caucus chairman, told The Hill, “I don’t really have a problem with what those guys (Sanford, Weld, and Walsh) are doing, but the reality is it’s irrelevant.”
Sanford disagreed. “Debate on issues that are core on what it means to be a Republican are never irrelevant. The Republican Party has lost its way on spending. We’re looking now at a trillion-dollar deficit this year, which is something we’ve never run before during benign economic conditions,” he responded.
The candidate was interviewed by Fox News during his first trip since launching his 2020 White House bid to New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary in the nominating calendar. Sanford was greeting voters at Manchester’s Airport Diner – a must-stop for presidential contenders – and handing out pamphlets explaining the three goals of his campaign.
Sanford said that the first goal is to “spark a debate within the Republican Party on what it means to be a Republican and in particular about the degree that we’re stacking up debt and deficit in Washington, DC.”
His second goal, he said, is “end up with some number of delegates such that you can actually help shape the Republican platform on what I’m saying on debt and deficit.”
And Sanford said his third goal “would be winning.”
Sanford hopes that his message will resonate among Republicans and independents in a state with rich fiscal conservative traditions as well as a strong libertarian streak.
“I think that’s the kind of thing that would get folks in New Hampshire bothered,” he noted. “I do think it’s a fertile ground from where I come from.”
While Sanford is challenging the president and has been a Trump critic dating back to the 2016 election, don’t plan on seeing Sanford vote for a Democrat in next year’s general election.
Asked if he’d vote for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020 if Trump is the GOP’s presidential nominee, Sanford said he didn’t think so.
“I’m going to vote conservative and I’m going to vote for the conservative choice,” he explained.
And he said even though he blames Trump for “doing serious harm to people’s trust in the Republican Party as being the party of financial stewardship,” he said the president would be better than the Democratic alternative.