Former South Carolina Congressmaninitially planned to announce his presidential candidacy in front of a shrimp boat in Shem Creek or at a podium somewhere inside Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island in his home state, he told CBS News in an interview Sunday.
“But a hurricane came our way,” he sighed. “And that went out the window. So we decided to go ahead and drive a stake in the ground. And that’s what we did this morning.”
Sanford appeared Sunday morning on “Fox News Sunday” with host Chris Wallace to officially launch his longshot presidential bid to unseat President Trump in a primary challenge. From here, he’ll begin the arduous task of building out what he calls a “real” campaign. “But that process began today,” Sanford said, hinting at future campaign tours in the early-voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa.
The decision to run came after a handful of conversations with friends “new and old” — some from South Carolina, others from New Hampshire and Iowa. One particularly influential conversation with an “unnamed lieutenant governor,” reminded Sanford that the Republican Party “has lost its way of life.”
In a preview of his stump speech, Sanford bemoaned a Republican abandonment of civic discourse. “One of the things that I’m going to talk about in this campaign are political norms and institutions,” he said. Sanford, who was also South Carolina’s governor, referenced a tweet by President Trump last month.
“When you go out and say that the chairman of the Fed is an enemy of the state, or that you trust a third-world despot more than you do your own intelligence agencies, that erodes the glue that’s held our system together for 200 years.”
That argument resonated with “moms and millennials” among others, Sanford said. He added, “A whole lot of other people are saying ‘forget it.’ This is not what we’re trying to teach our kids.”
One of Sanford’s main concerns is the nation’s spending. In that vein, he criticized the president’s request. In response to perceived silence from fellow Republicans, Sanford interjected, “It’s not right for Republicans to criticize President Obama’s hypothetical actions on this front and be silent on Republican activity. I think it’s dangerous.”
In the wake of, Sanford voiced particular concern of funds diverted from FEMA. “We’re just at the front of the hurricane season. And we’re not the back end. We’re at the front end,” he noted, reciting the first few letters of the alphabet. “Dorian is D. You know – ABCD. We got a long list of letters still to go in this hurricane season. We’re not out of the woods.”
Sanford called the recent decision by Republican parties in South Carolina and Nevada to cancel GOP primaries “a setback” and “alarming bellwether.” The former South Carolina governor believes his home state is ripe for a “robust competition of ideas.” On the politics front, Sanford suggested the decision to take the “first in the South” primary off the map is a “troubling sign” for the Trump campaign. “I think it says that in some instances the president’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep.”
Before announcing his bid, Sanford called both former Governor Bill Weld and former Representative Joe Walsh on the phone as a courtesy. Weld responded positively, suggesting the case against President Trump is only bolstered by broader competition. Walsh did not pick up the phone, so Sanford left a message.
Presidential hopefuls on the Democratic side weighed in on Sanford’s bid this morning. “I hope that people do challenge this president who does not represent the full breadth of the Republican Party,” Senator Cory Booker said. “I’ve never been one to paint with a broad brush and demonize Republicans. I love Americans and I think no side has a monopoly of good ideas.”
“Republicans should absolutely be challenging Trump because Trump doesn’t represent any convention Republican positions. He represents something completely different,” Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado told CBS News. “I know why he’s getting in. He thinks Trump is fiscally irresponsible.”
“I think that’s the way it ought to be,” Sanford responded to the comments by his former Democratic colleagues in Congress. “It’s a compliment to who they are as human beings.”
“I might have sizable political differences with Cory Booker,” Sanford added. “But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a debate of ideas. That’s what’s made our country.”
In the months leading up to his announcement, Sanford suggested the goal of his race would be to start a conversation about the U.S. debt and deficit. He called his frugality a “core part” of his identity. “It’s not a political uniform.”
The former governor had hopped off a Bolt Bus from Washington, D.C. to New York just before his conversation with CBS News on Sunday. A flight, Sanford reasoned, would have cost $350 or more. “It was $185 for the train.” Prices for one-way tickets on the Bolt Bus on Sundays begin at about $28.
“The bus is a horror show if you go out on a Monday, but if you go midday on a Sunday, it’s a half an hour longer than the train,” he continued. “You’re comfortable. You’re on the phone the whole time. Boom, you’re there.” He chuckled, admitting, “I did spring for the extra $7 to get the front left seat. So I had a nice view.”
Asked if he’d take his political campaign to Twitter in an effort to counter the president’s messaging, Sanford scoffed, bemoaning what he called a “cult of personality.”
“Twitter is not the only way of communication despite popular opinion in some circles.” He added, “Trump seems to be the master of the Twitter process. I don’t know that I need to play on his turf.”
The president’s use of Twitter, Sanford argued, has created some Trump fatigue among conventional Republican voters. “I think that most people are coming to conclusion that leadership by tweet is not leadership.”
It’s not just the tweeting, though. Sanford suspected the president’s latest installment ofwill wear on Americans. “The latest statistics show that the trade actions would cost the average household more than thousand dollars,” he said. “And more significantly, they will cost jobs.” Circling back to discussing the Federal Reserve System, Sanford expressed concerns about the possibility of an economic downgrade for the U.S. amid “economic uncertainty.”
But Sanford conceded he doesn’t know how many Republicans would be willing to abandon an incumbent president of their own party. “That’s the big bet of this race. And I don’t know which way it will cut.” But he recalled the “thousands upon thousands” of conversations he’s had in office with local fisherman, small business owners, and penny-pinching families.
“My belief is that those people have not disappeared.” He paused. “If they did, the Trump hunch is right.”