Former South Carolina Governor and Congressman for SC-1, Mark Sanford, announced Sunday that he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2020 against incumbent President Donald Trump. When Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Sanford why, he said that “We need to have a conversation on what it means to be a Republican.”
Sanford’s ostensible desire is to draw attention to America’s massive national debt, and our political unwillingness to address the ever-expanding, elephantine gorilla in the room. But as local radio personality and former Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard said on his show this morning, Sanford is shining a bright light on himself as much as he is on the national debt.
I like Mark Sanford, I really do. He’s a weird dude, but I kind of respect that—he’s not always a cookie-cutter clone politician. To be clear, I lost all respect for him personally when he “hiked the Appalachian Trail” down in Argentina (not to mention his embarrassingly soyboyish declarations of love for his spicy Latin mistress), but I’ve largely respected his principled approach to advancing limited government.
That said, I think Ken Ard is right: Sanford wants to be relevant again, and we don’t need politicians who merely want to be back in the action. That’s especially true when challenging a popular incumbent who has 90% support from his own party. For all his economic libertarianism and limited government dogmatism, it seems as though the only job Sanford can hold is public office.
I would wager that, had Sanford not lost his 2018 primary to Katie Arrington, and had he gone on to be reelected, he would not be running for president now—he wouldn’t need to do so! He’d be collecting his taxpayer-funded check. It’s always amusing to see the most vocal economic libertarians making their livings on the backs of taxpayers, or through donation-funded think-tanks (not that I wouldn’t do the same, to be clear).
Deficit spending is a major problem, and one we can ill-afford to ignore. But I have two thoughts here. First, deficit spending has been a major issue for so long, it has taken on the form of an abstract political boogeyman. Eventually the Cassandras of deficit spending will be proven correct, I’m afraid, but politically, decrying deficit spending doesn’t move the needle, especially after Republicans have squandered several opportunities to do something about it. President Trump never claimed to be a deficit hawk—he campaigned pretty much on the opposite—but other Republicans who have gone after the deficit have failed to act when given the opportunity.
And why should they? Most voters don’t seem genuinely to care about the issue, or even to understand it. That doesn’t mean it’s not important, but it illustrates the “boy-who-cried-economic-catastrophe” effect at play.
Second, Sanford could easily draw attention to and educate voters about this issue in other ways. To his credit, yes, his talk about a potential run earlier in the summer took me to his website, which used to link to a useful national budget activity (I can’t seem to locate it on the website now). But there are seemingly numberless conservative think-tanks from which a well-heeled politician like Sanford would push this message. Heck, he could even run for SC-1 again!
Finally, all this talk of “what it means to be a Republican” is a bit rich. Yes, there was briefly a battle over the soul of the Republican Party, but the Trumpist faction has, for the time being, won the day, at least with the rank-and-file. This Bolshevist-style, NeverTrump vanguard of neocons and quasi-libertarians exists only in the rarefied heights of GOP Establishment politics. Sanford might be right about the deficit, but he’s ineffective. Trump should do more to rein in spending, but he’s effective on most other issues.
For those interested, here is the e-mail Sanford sent out announcing his run. I couldn’t find a way to view it as a webpage, so I’ve copy-pasted it from my e-mail account: