COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor and congressman, joined the Republican race against President Donald Trump on Sunday, aiming to put his Appalachian trail travails behind him for good as he pursues an admittedly remote path to the presidency.
“I am here to tell you now that I am going to get in,” Sanford said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” ″This is the beginning of a long walk.”
When asked why he was taking on an incumbent who’s popular within the party, Sanford, who has acknowledged his slim chances by saying he doesn’t expect to become president, said: “I think we need to have a conversation on what it means to be a Republican. I think that as the Republican Party, we have lost our way.”
Sanford joins Joe Walsh, a former tea-party-backed, one-term congressman from Illinois, and Bill Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, as primary challengers to Trump.
“This vanity project is going absolutely nowhere,” said Drew McKissick, the South Carolina Republican Party chairman.
Sanford tweeted that he respects “the view of many Republican friends who have suggested that I not run, but I simply counter that competition makes us stronger.”
“Humbly I step forward,” he said.
The 59-year-old Sanford has long been an outspoken critic of Trump’s, frequently questioning his motivations and qualifications during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election and calling Trump’s candidacy “a particularly tough pill to swallow.”
Ultimately, though, Sanford said he would support Trump in the 2016 general election, although he had “no stomach for his personal style and his penchant for regularly demeaning others,” continuing a drumbeat that the then-candidate release his tax returns.
As Sanford sought reelection to his post representing South Carolina’s 1st District in 2018, drawing a primary challenger who embraced Trump, the president took interest in the race. State Rep. Katie Arrington repeatedly aired ads featuring Sanford’s on-air critiques of Trump and attached the “Never Trump” moniker to Sanford, a condemnation in a state that Trump carried by double digits in 2016.
Although unlikely to have had a significant impact on the results, Trump endorsed Arrington just hours before the polls closed, tweeting that Sanford “has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign” and that “He is better off in Argentina” — a reference to Sanford’s secret 2009 rendezvous to South America for an extramarital affair while his in-the-dark gubernatorial staff told reporters he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Asked Sunday if that incident could be a distraction to his campaign, Sanford said that the aftermath had forced him to attain a new “level of empathy.”
“I profoundly apologize for that,” he added, noting that South Carolina voters subsequently forgave him politically and sent him back to Congress.