Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., lost his congressional primary on Tuesday because — even though he was elected there three times, despite his involvement in a high-profile sex scandal as governor — Republican voters were apparently less forgiving of Sanford’s willingness to speak critically about President Donald Trump.
Sanford’s opponent in the GOP primary race, state Rep. Katie Arrington, focused her campaign on criticizing Sanford’s outspoken criticism of the Republican president. In one campaign ad, Arrington declared that “Mark Sanford and the career politicians cheated on us” and accused Sanford of developing a habit of liking to “go on CNN to bash President Trump.”
She added, “Bless his heart, but it’s time for Mark Sanford to take a hike — for real this time.”
Sanford, by contrast, has refused to walk back his past criticisms of Trump, even stating on Tuesday that “it may cost me an election in this case but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.” In the past, Sanford has criticized Trump for claiming that “facts don’t matter,” a characterization that he described as “befuddling,” and after the shooting at a congressional Republican baseball practice last year, Sanford argued that Trump is “partially to blame for demons that have been unleashed.” He has also told Politico that Trump had “fanned the flames of intolerance” in America.
Trump himself chimed in on the Sanford primary race on Tuesday.
After Arrington won in the primary, Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday in order to claim credit for her victory.
As Trump explained on Twitter, “My political representatives didn’t want me to get involved in the Mark Sanford primary thinking that Sanford would easily win – but with a few hours left I felt that Katie was such a good candidate, and Sanford was so bad, I had to give it a shot. Congrats to Katie Arrington!”
Sanford’s primary defeat marks the second time in the 2018 midterm election cycle that a high profile Republican candidate in the House of Representatives suffered as a result of the perception that they were insufficiently loyal to Trump, according to The New York Times. A few weeks ago, Rep. Martha Roby in Alabama failed to breach the 50 percent threshold in her primary and consequently will be forced to run against a former Democrat, Bobby Bright, who, unlike Roby, has been unwavering in his praise and support for Trump.
“We’re at an interesting inflection point in American politics. If somehow dissent from your own party becomes viewed as a bad thing, then we’re not really vetting and challenging ideas in the way the founding fathers intended,” Sanford told the Times.
Sanford himself has an interesting history. In June 2009, during his sixth year as South Carolina’s governor, he unexpectedly found himself in the center of a major scandal after he disappeared for nearly a week, according to the Associated Press. His spokesman at the time told reporters that Sanford was hiking along the Appalachian trail (an expression that has since become synonymous with covering up a sex scandal), but, in fact, the South Carolina governor was in Argentina pursuing an affair, according to The State. Sanford’s handling of that affair caused him to be held up to further ridicule. This included his seemingly sanctimonious revelation of his affair, which included passages like this one, according to The New York Times.
But I’m here because if you were to look at God’s laws, they’re in every instance designed to protect people from themselves. I think that that is the bottom line of God’s law, that it’s not a moral, rigid list of do’s and don’ts just for the heck of do’s and don’ts. It is indeed to protect us from ourselves. And the biggest self of self is, indeed, self; that sin is, in fact, grounded in this notion of what is it that I want as opposed to somebody else?
He also alluded to his membership in a congressional Christian study group as a way of trying to illuminate his supposed crisis of faith:
I was part of a group called C Street when I was in Washington. It was a, believe it or not, a Christian Bible study; some folks that asked of members of Congress hard questions that I think were very, very important. And I’ve been working with them.
He also described how he had initially called off his budding relationship with Chapur for religious reasons:
This person at the time was separated. And we ended up in this incredibly serious conversation about why she ought to get back with her husband for the sake of her two boys; that not only was it part of God’s law, but ultimately those two boys would be better off for it.
He eventually concluded by painting himself as a victim of his own lusts:
I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina, so I could repeat it when I came back here in saying, you know, while indeed from a heart level, there was something real, it was a place based on the fiduciary relationship I had, to the people of South Carolina, based on my boys, based on my wife, based on where I was in life, based on where she was in life, a place I couldn’t go and she couldn’t go.
Sanford later referred to his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, as his “soul mate.” Despite efforts to impeach him, he was ultimately able to hold on to his governorship until the end of his second term.
Despite this embarrassing scandal, Sanford was elected as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in a special election held in 2013 in order to replace the outgoing Rep. Tim Scott, who had been appointed to the U. S. Senate. He was subsequently reelected and seemed to be comfortable in his own district, despite his ongoing tumultuous relationship with Chapur. It took his willingness to stand up to Trump to upend his political career and, this time with seeming finality, led to his removal from office.