During Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd interviewed Rep. Mark Sanford (R), who recently lost renomination for his House seat in South Carolina after President Trump criticized him while endorsing his primary opponent on Twitter. Hoping for an intra-party fight to break out, Todd read aloud a quote from Senator Bob Corker, also a Trump critic, comparing the GOP to a cult. Todd then asked Sanford “would you use that word?” Later in the interview, Todd asked Sanford if he had any plans to run against President Trump in 2020.
The President’s last-minute tweet evidently paid off, as Arrington defeated Sanford in the Republican primary with a majority of the vote, avoiding the need for a runoff later this month. Sanford’s loss makes him the second congressman to get defeated in a primary during the 2018 election cycle.
Sanford, whose tenure in Congress will expire at the conclusion of the 115th Congress, volunteered to take some questions from Todd, who asked him if he agreed with the following quote from retiring Tennessee Senator Bob Corker: “It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it? It’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be purportedly of the same party.”
Sanford said that he would not go so far as to compare the GOP to a cult but he also said “the idea that you can't speak out and say I disagree with you here but I agree with you on 90 percent of the stuff is again, a twilight world that I've never seen.”
Todd then brought up President Trump's “issues with the truth,” referring to the President's impromptu press conference on Friday morning as a “fact-free” “Friday morning spectacle.” During his tenure as Governor of South Carolina, Sanford had an “issue with the truth” of his own back in 2009 when he told people he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was actually hooking up with his mistress in Argentina, which President Trump referenced in his tweet.
Sanford eventually brought up his extramarital affair, arguing that it gave him a “unique vantage point on this front.” According to Sanford, “there is no seeming consequence to the President and lies.” Sanford said that he faced financial, political and social consequences for his affair but he ultimately did not face any political consequences as he served out the remainder of his term as Governor of South Carolina and got elected to his old House seat during a special election less than three years later.
Todd asked Sanford why Republicans, besides Never-Trumper Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, have remained silent on the President’s behavior. Sanford answered by bringing up an adage an “old-time Senator” once shared with him: “The name of the game is staying in the game.”
Sanford explained that in order to stay in the game, “you compartmentalize, you rationalize.” He specifically took issue with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s description of the President as “a genius with regard to trade,” arguing the President’s embrace of tariffs goes against traditional Republican orthodoxy.
Sanford’s impassioned defense of free trade led Todd to ask him “You want to take the issues national in 2020 and debate the President about the direction of the party?” Unfortunately for Todd, who would love to see President Trump have to go through a bruising Republican primary in his re-election bid, Sanford did not seem all that interested in a future White House bid, telling him “No, I’m just trying to sort out the last 48 hours of my life. If you’ve…I never lost an election before. So this is new territory. But there’s some real soul searching that goes with it. I have had a, you know, a couple of different chapters of life that have caused intense soul searching, this is going to be one of them.”
Now that Sanford has become a Trump critic, the media has finally developed a strange new admiration for him as they hope to prop him up as a potential primary challenger for President Trump in 2020.
A transcript is below. Click "expand" to read more:
Meet the Press
CHUCK TODD: Bob Corker said this, “It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it? It’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be purportedly of the same party.” Would you use that word?
REP. MARK SANFORD: I wouldn’t go so far as cult but I would just say that from an electoral sense, people are running for cover because they don’t want to be on the losing side of Presidents who tweet and from a, from a populist standpoint, it’s almost a Faustian bargain. I’ll pander to you if you pander to me. And that exchange is very dangerous really with regard to the again, really to what the Founding Fathers set up, which is a system designed to garner debate and dissent. The idea that you can’t speak out and say I disagree with you here but I agree with you on 90 percent of the stuff is again, a twilight world that I’ve never seen.
TODD: What about this issue, that literally the President can just say whatever he wants, fact-free, mischaracterize, the Friday morning spectacle was something to behold. You, like I said, you have said you have been troubled by his issues with the truth. You’ve been troubled by some of the things he’s done with law enforcement. But speaking out cost you your political career. Jeff Flake cost his political career. These are two people, you guys are very like-minded, libertarian-leaning conservatives, what does that say?
SANFORD: That’s a larger commentary on society and where we are. But because we’ve gone from George Washington, I can’t tell a lie about cutting down the apple tree to they become so replete that nobody even questions him anymore. And that’s, again, a dangerous spot to be in a reason-based republic. I have a unique vantage point on this front. We all know the story of 2009 and my implosion.
SANFORD: 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 but there were incredible consequences.
TODD: Yes there were.
SANFORD: Financially, politically, socially, I lost…I can go down a long is list.
TODD: You paid a price.
TODD: You paid some price.
SANFORD: And so maybe the reason I’m so outspoken on this now is there is no seeming consequence to the President and lies. 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.
TODD: Why is it just you and Jeff Flake and Bob Corker? Where’s Speaker Ryan? Where’s the head of the legislative branch?
SANFORD: People are running for the hills. Again, everybody…what you do as an elected official is an all-time…an old time senator told me years ago the name of the game is staying in the game.
TODD: So you compartmentalize?
SANFORD: You compartmentalize, you rationalize. I watched, you know, I saw a thing the other day with Kevin McCarthy talking about how the President was a genius with regard to trade and you’re going oh, my goodness. Tariffs are taxes. And yet, somehow we’re going to rationalize at a Republican Party leadership level that what the president is proposing with regard to, you know, using Section 232, and go down the list, in very strange ways, is somehow okay with what the Republican Party has historically stood for with regard to engagement or trade? I mean, I could come up with a long list of things that people rationalize but they do it fundamentally because they want to stay in the game.
TODD: You want to take the issues national in 2020 and debate the President about the direction of the party?
SANFORD: No, I’m just trying to sort out the last 48 hours of my life. If you’ve…I never lost an election before. So this is new territory. But there’s some real soul searching that goes with it. I have had a, you know, a couple of different chapters of life that have caused intense soul searching, this is going to be one of them.