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Mark Sanford, a Republican best known for an extramarital affair, announces a primary challenge against Trump

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Video still of Mark Sanford on Fox News Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019.

Former South Carolina congressman Mark Sanford announced on Sunday he is running for the Republican nomination for president. Sanford, who also served two terms as governor of South Carolina, declared his candidacy on Fox News Sunday.

The announcement came one day after the South Carolina Republican Party voted to eliminate its 2020 primary, and reaffirmed its support for President Donald Trump. Kansas and Nevada Republicans had already voted to cancel their 2020 presidential nominating caucuses.

The former congressman told host Chris Wallace he had planned to kick off his campaign in his hometown of Charleston last week, but Hurricane Dorian forced him to abandon that plan.

Sanford lost his bid for reelection in 2018, when a candidate backed by President Trump defeated him in the Republican primary. Sanford had occasionally said critical things about Trump’s behavior as president, although like other congressional Republicans who have criticized Trump, he voted consistently for the president’s agenda.

Sanford told Wallace his central priority would be pushing to restore what he considers to be traditional Republican values, mainly opposition to budget deficits. During a visit to Iowa last month, Sanford said such opposition “used to be a linchpin as to what the Republican Party and conservative movement used to be about.” The federal budget deficit has increased by 80 percent since Trump took office, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the most favorable conditions, the tax cut Republicans — including Sanford — pushed through Congress in 2017 will add $1.9 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.

Sanford, however, said he wouldn’t repeal or change the tax cut. Instead, he advocates slashing spending on social programs.

The Republican attracted national attention as governor of South Carolina, when he disappeared for almost a week in June 2009. His staff told reporters, the public and state legislators that the governor was “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” Actually, the married Sanford, a self-proclaimed champion of family values, had flown to Argentina to visit a girlfriend who lived in Buenos Aires.

The episode ended in a failed attempt to impeach Sanford. He was forced to resign as head of the National Republican Governor’s Association. “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” became a national punchline. His wife divorced him. He became engaged to his girlfriend, but that relationship ended as well.

His relationship with voters in South Carolina proved more successful. Sanford was elected to represent South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District in a special election in 2013. He was reelected in 2014 and 2016.

To the extent Sanford has national name recognition, it is still for that 2009 episode. Wikipedia, for example, redirects searches for “The Love Gov” to Sanford’s page.

Sanford is the third Republican to announce a primary challenge to Trump.

Former one-term congressman and current right-wing radio talk show host, Joe Walsh, announced his candidacy on Aug. 25. Walsh, who loudly supported Trump in 2016, said he is running because the president is “nuts, he’s erratic, he’s cruel, he stokes bigotry.” Following his announcement, Walsh acknowledged he has a long history of making racist statements, but claimed that didn’t mean he is a racist.

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In February, former Massachusetts governor William Weld became the first Republican to launch a primary challenge to Trump. Conservatives have routinely denounced Weld as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) since the 1990s, because of his moderate positions on LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights and the legalization of marijuana. Until he changed his party registration at the beginning of this year, Weld couldn’t even claim the name Republican, having quit the party in 2016 to run as vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket.


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