Any GOP presidential primary challenge against Donald Trump is going to be the longest of long shots. From 2015 to today, Republicans who didn’t like Trump largely stopped thinking of themselves as Republicans, and the Republicans who remain are largely supportive, with the percentage expressing approval usually in the eighties. There just aren’t that many Republican primary voters who are eager to shop around for another option this cycle.
As Jack Crowe notes, former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford is thinking of running for president this cycle. Sanford told the Charleston Post and Courier that “he will take the next month to formulate whether he will mount a potential run against Trump as a way of pushing a national debate about America’s mounting debt, deficit and government spending.”
Not only would Sanford have a near-impossible time winning the nomination, not only would he have a hard time winning the state (Trump’s approval rating among south Carolina Republicans was at 79 percent in April), at this point it’s an open question if Sanford would win more votes in his old House district.
Down in South Carolina’s first Congressional District, Katie Arrington beat Mark Sanford in the 2018 House primary, making the primary fight almost a referendum on loyalty to the president. Sanford lost narrowly — 46.5 percent to Arrington’s 50.6 percent — and no doubt that loss was surprising and deeply disappointing to the incumbent. Sanford chose to not endorse her in the general election, and it is believed that a considerable number of Sanford donors and allies sat out the general election.
In November, Arrington lost to Democrat Joe Cunningham, 49.2 percent to Cunningham’s 50.6 percent. She explicitly blamed Sanford: “We lost because Mark Sanford could not understand that this race was about the conservative movement — and not about him.”
All of this assumes, of course, that South Carolina even has a GOP presidential primary next year. Since 2017, South Carolina Republicans have sounded skeptical about whether they would hold a primary, suggesting they would only hold one if Trump had serious competition. This morning, State GOP chairman Drew McKissick was already denouncing Sanford: “The last time Mark Sanford had an idea this dumb, it killed his governorship.”
This is all separate from the question of whether America’s mounting debt, deficit and government spending” is an issue that Republicans particularly care about at this moment. We can argue that they ought to, but the evidence is that by and large, they do not.
This isn’t to say Sanford’s announcement wouldn’t have any impact. He’s probably unnerving William Weld, former Massachusetts governor and Libertarian candidate for vice president, who announced a 2020 bid.