Sanford fears loss may have chilling effect on Trump critics
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, who lost his re-election bid amid questions about his loyalty to President Donald Trump, said he’s concerned that Republicans are afraid to disagree with the president and risk bad publicity.
In an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanford said he was “very supportive” of most of the White House’s policy agenda.
“So this was not about policy, it was about personal loyalty,” he said.
Sanford lost Tuesday in the Republican primary to a state lawmaker, Katie Arrington, who repeatedly highlighted Sanford’s criticism of the president. Trump himself weighed in hours before polls closed on Election Day to endorse Arrington and denounce Sanford as “nothing but trouble.” Arrington will face Democrat Joe Cunningham in the fall.
Sanford’s voting record is generally conservative, but his criticism of Trump as unworthy and culturally intolerant made him a target of Trump supporters.
Sanford said in the NBC interview that Republican politicians are afraid to publicly disagree with the president. He said that “from an electoral sense, people are running for cover because they don’t want to be on the losing side of a presidential tweet.”
He believes that Republicans feel they have to “pander” to the president to win his support in return.
“And that exchange is very dangerous really, with regard to, again, what the Founding Fathers set up, which is a system designed to garner debate and dissent,” he said.
The former South Carolina governor also said he fears that truthfulness in public discourse has declined in the age of Trump.
He acknowledged that dishonesty played a role in a political scandal that erupted in 2009 when Sanford took a trip to South America to have an affair while his unknowing staff in the governor’s office told reporters he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sanford bounced back from that scandal and won two more terms in the U.S. House. He had previously served in the U.S. House in the 1990s before winning two terms as governor.
“I have a unique vantage point on this front. We all know the story of 2009 and my implosion,” Sanford told NBC host Chuck Todd. “A lie was told on my half -- behalf, which means I own it. More to the point, I was living a lie in that chapter of life.”
Sanford said that while he paid for the dishonesty financially, socially and politically, there seem to be fewer consequences for dishonesty in the age of Trump.
“And so maybe the reason I’m so outspoken on this now is there is no seeming consequence to the president and lies,” he said. “And if we accept that as a society, it is going to have incredibly harmful consequences in the way that we operate going forward, based on the construct of the Founding Fathers.”
White House media representatives didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Sanford’s remarks Sunday.