Defeated Anti-Trumper Mark Sanford Plays Victim to Willing Media
South Carolina's 'Appalachian Trail' congressman scandal rarely comes up in analysis of last week's congressional primary
Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) on Sunday continued his woe-is-me media tour following his Republican primary defeat last week for — in his telling — refusing to kowtow to President Donald Trump.
Sanford is an odd fit for the role of media darling. During two stints in the House of Representatives — sandwiching two terms as governor of South Carolina — he compiled an exceedingly conservative record.
In his second term as governor, he endured a humiliating scandal involving an extramarital affair that became public when residents discovered he was in Argentina with the woman rather than on the Appalachian Trail, as his spokesman claimed.
Interviewers generally have been uninterested in that scandal, however, or any possible lingering impact the old baggage might have had on Tuesday’s primary results. Instead, journalists have held Sanford up as the latest exhibit in the narrative that the GOP has become a “cult” under Trump.
Sanford has been all too happy to oblige, most recently Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
“If you boil it down, I wasn’t Trump enough in the age of Trump,” he said. “And, yeah, so in that regard, he certainly had a hand in it.”
Trump tweeted an endorsement for challenger Katie Arrington on Election Day, a couple of hours before the polls closed. But he otherwise made no real effort on her behalf.
Sanford told host Chuck Todd that his differences with Trump mostly have been over personal loyalty, not policy.
“I’d spoken out as I had with regard to the president, and it cost me,” he said.
Sanford said Trump’s rise resulted from a legitimate desire on the part of voters to change the way Washington works.
“But it has morphed or metastasized into something that is quite different about his larger loyalty to the president himself,” he said. “So have I been loyal to, you know, the conservative cause? Yeah, I’ve got every merit badge in the book, if you want to call it that.”
Sanford did not acknowledge — and Todd did not point out — that policy differences did play a role in the election. Sanford, a classic free-trade Republican, has been harshly critical of Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on China and other countries. And Arrington suggested during a debate that Sanford was not sufficiently committed to the anti-abortion cause.
Like many other reporters and political analysts who have reviewed the ashes of Sanford’s re-election campaign, Todd did not mention the Appalachian Trail scandal. Sanford himself brought it up to explain why he is upset that, in his view, Trump fails to tell the truth on many occasions and that fellow Republicans stand silent.
In retelling his scandal, Sanford used the passive voice to explain the lie. “A lie was told on my behalf, which means I own it,” he said. He left out one key fact: The reason the lie was told on his behalf is that it’s what he told his staff.
“I was living a lie in that chapter,” Sanford said. “But there were incredible consequences — financially, politically, socially, lost my marriage.”
“More to the point, I was living a lie in that chapter,” he said. “But there were incredible consequences — financially, politically, socially, lost my marriage — I can go down a long list.”
Todd was sympathetic. “You paid a price. You paid some price,” he said.
Sanford continued: “Maybe the reason I am so outspoken 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.”
In June 2008, Sanford explained his opposition to a law allowing faith-based state license plates this way: “It is my personal view that the largest proclamation of one’s faith ought to be in how one lives his life.”
Roughly a year later, Sanford admitted his affair.
Eric Ostermeier, a political science researcher at the University of Minnesota, told LifeZette that some media outlets are using Sanford. He said Sanford has not had near the national profile of some other Never-Trump Republicans, such as Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
He recalled the treatment of Sanford was much different in 2013 when he was attempting a political comeback in a House special election against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.
“They were going after him pretty hard with Stephen Colbert’s sister,” he said.