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Mark Sanford will mount Republican primary challenge against Trump

Key Points
  • Former South Carolina Republican congressman and governor Mark Sanford announced on Sunday that he is launching a 2020 campaign against President Donald Trump.
  • Sanford, who was ousted from Congress after speaking out against Trump, plans to make debt, deficit and spending the focus of his campaign.
  • "I think we need to have a conversation about what it means to be a Republican. I think that as a Republican party we have lost our way," he said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." 
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
Bill Clark | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

Former South Carolina Republican congressman and governor Mark Sanford announced on Sunday that he is launching a 2020 campaign against President Donald Trump.

"I think we need to have a conversation about what it means to be a Republican. I think that as a Republican party we have lost our way," he said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

Sanford, who was ousted from Congress after speaking out against Trump, plans to make debt, deficit and spending the focus of his campaign. He's been thinking about a presidential primary run since since mid-July.

"The epicenter of where I'm coming from is that we have lost our way on debt and deficits and spending," he said. "The president has called himself the king of debt, has a familiarity and comfort level with debt that I think is ultimately leading us in the wrong direction."

The federal deficit has increased under the Trump administration, and will widen to $1 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year, according to Congressional Budget Office forecasts.

With his announcement, Sanford becomes the third Republican to challenge Trump for the presidency, along with Tea Party Republican and one-term Illinois congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts governor William Weld.

Trump has received a consistently high approval rating in the high 80s among Republican voters, and is essentially guaranteed to win the Republican primary.

Sanford served as a U.S. Representative for South Carolina's 1st congressional district from 1995-2001 and 2013-2019. He was elected governor of the state in 2002 and served two terms. In 2018, Sanford lost his reelection bid to the House after Trump endorsed South Carolina state Representative Katie Arrington.

"I think we need to have a conversation on the degree to which institutions and political culture are being damaged by this president," Sanford said. "Those institutions and that political culture are really the glue that holds together our balance of power."

Sanford's announcement comes after his home state's GOP decided not to have a Republican primary.

"With no legitimate primary challenger and President Trump's record of results, the decision was made to save South Carolina taxpayers over $1.2 million and forgo an unnecessary primary," said South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick.

While he was governor in 2009, Sanford was plagued with a scandal after he said he was on the Appalachian Trail, when he was actually in Argentina having an extramarital affair. Despite that controversy, Sanford was re-elected in 2013 to the congressional seat he had held before he was elected as governor.

Trump helped doom Sanford's 2018 primary campaign. In response to Sanford's criticism of Trump, the president took to Twitter the day of the election to attack him and endorse his opponent.

"Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble," Trump wrote. "He is better off in Argentina."

In August, Trump wrote that he had the "Three Stooges" running against him, referring to the Republicans who have announced bids for the White House.

"One is 'Mr. Appalachian Trail' who was actually in Argentina for bad reasons. Another is a one-time BAD Congressman from Illinois who lost in his second term by a landslide, then failed in radio. The third is a man who couldn't stand up straight while receiving an award," Trump wrote. "I should be able to take them!"