DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Mark Sanford knows he’s a longshot if he decides to challenge President Donald Trump — but he says he’s survived long odds in the past.
The South Carolina Republican’s tenure as governor was rocked by scandal when he disappeared with his Argentinian mistress. Still, he managed to get elected to Congress a few years later.
“I’ve faced some pretty long odds at other points in my life,” he said Thursday in an interview with the Associated Press.
Sanford has been canvassing political professionals and voters in a handful of key early primary states as he considers whether to challenge Trump for the GOP’s 2020 presidential nomination. He has said he’ll make a decision around Labor Day.
During his visit to Iowa this week, the advice he got from the state’s political operatives was largely gloomy. They told him “how tough it is, what a rough slog it would be, the degree to which you would be locked out of the process from the standpoint of Republican infrastructure,” but he said that wouldn’t deter him.
Sanford referenced the controversy surrounding his seven-day disappearance with his mistress in 2009, after which he was elected to Congress in a 2013 special election and then reelected twice more. He lost in a 2018 primary after Trump issued a tweet attacking him.
“After you’ve been through 2009, you’ve gone through a time in the desert, there’s no belief that people will move past that very big event in your life. Would you be forgiven, in a political term? Show me the other guys out there in Republican Party circles who have come back from that kind of thing,” he said.
Still, he acknowledged how long the odds would be if he does decide to run, pointing to the fact that since the 1950s, no candidate who has challenged an incumbent president of their own party has been successful.
“I’m not delusional on prospects. It’s not as if I’m saying, you know, I think I can become president. But I think you can change the debate, and you might even have an impact on the general election,” he said.
Even logistically, Sanford said, he’d have to run a “guerilla warfare campaign.”
“It would sort of be a David and Goliath story. You’re not gonna get top-level (political) professionals and you’re not gonna get top-level funding. . It’s gotta be small-dollar donations,” he said.
Sanford also acknowledged the prospect of Trump dredging up his past affair and other personal issues, and said he’ll have a final conversation with his sons before deciding to pursue a race.
But he admitted he’s not focused primarily on winning or losing. “Goal one” for his potential run would instead be to “elevate, educate and to raise awareness of how dire our financial situation really is,” pointing to unchecked government spending, the deep deficit and the potential of a recession.
Asked if he felt Trump is dangerous for the country, however, Sanford wouldn’t go directly after the president.
“I think that some of his approach is reckless and the end result of that approach, and some of the policies, is indeed dangerous,” he said.
In weighing the pros and cons of a run against the president, Sanford sounded like a man with little to lose. When asked how he’d feel if he were ostracized from the party for challenging Trump in a primary, Sanford simply shrugged.
“I’ve already been there,” he said, with a chuckle.