Sanford Announces Presidential Bid

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:

I am writing to share with you my decision to run as a Republican candidate for President of the United States. I am compelled to enter the Presidential Primary for several reasons – the most important of which is to further and foster a national debate on our nation’s debt, deficits and spending.

I’m worried. We have a storm coming that we are neither talking about nor preparing for given that we, as a country, are more financially vulnerable than we have ever been since our nation’s start and the Civil War. We are on a collision course with financial reality. The numbers tell the story on why we need to act now.

To this point, it took us 200 years to accumulate $5 trillion in national debt, but its growth has now become exponential. Our public debt has nearly tripled over the last ten years. This has occurred as we come to an end of a forty year downward drift in interest rates, the longest economic expansion in American history and never before seen asset values and household net worth based on these two factors. If under these circumstances, we can’t get our national finances in order, when can we?

Yet as I have watched the Democrat debates I hear no discussion, or even recognition, of what is occurring. Instead I hear a laundry list of new unpaid for political promises. On the Republican side, spending is up well above what President Obama had requested in his last year in office, and President Trump has ruled out action on the very things that drive spending and accumulated debt. Debate is even being cancelled on the Republican side, though I believe we need a conversation and action more than ever given our present course.

Essentially no one “leading” in Washington is leading, or even speaking of, our financial predicament. We are living in a government spending and financial la-la land, and this movie will not end well for any of us. Which brings me to the larger question of what I, or any of us, can do about it?

Presidential races focus our attention to politics and have historically been the stage on which we debate where we go next as a country. If we don’t do it this year, we put that national debate off until the next presidential election cycle. I don’t believe we have five more years before inaction guarantees a day of financial reckoning,

I have a unique vantage point and set of experiences – as a governor, as a Member of Congress and as a taxpayer outside of politics – to suggest and solicit debate on where we go next as Americans and as Republicans. I do believe we must have this conversation now and humbly step forward. I respect the view of many Republican friends who have suggested that I not run, but I simply counter that competition makes us stronger. We are in football season now where teams fiercely compete for division and national titles. I believe competition of ideas is good, not bad, for the Republican Party and for our country.

I ask for your wisdom, prayers, suggestions and time along the road ahead. Please join us – get involved – and know how much I would appreciate hearing from you.

Many thanks,

 

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