Sanford calls for 'overdue conversation' on debt as he mulls Trump challenge

Sanford calls for 'overdue conversation' on debt as he mulls Trump challenge
© Greg Nash

Former Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordTrump challenger Bill Weld rules out 2020 independent bid Judge throws out lawsuit against South Carolina GOP for canceling 2020 primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field MORE (R-S.C.) has told friends and supporters he would base a long-shot presidential campaign on the exploding national debt, which has grown precipitously under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

In a Thursday email to backers obtained by The Hill, Sanford says he will spend the next 30 days exploring a primary challenge to President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE by testing whether the Republican commitment to fiscal conservatism endures.

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“I’m worried. We have a storm coming that we are neither talking about nor preparing for given our country is more financially vulnerable than we have ever been since our nation’s start and the Civil War,” Sanford wrote. 

Sanford said his friends have encouraged him to run for president, but that he waited to see if a fiscally conservative challenger to Trump would emerge. No one has, so Sanford is reconsidering his hesitancy to mounting what he acknowledged would be a difficult campaign aimed more at framing the debate than winning the nomination.

“The goal here would be to generate a long overdue conversation amongst Republicans on what we believe on debt, deficits, and government spending,” he wrote. “It could lead to starting an advocacy group aimed at national conversation on this front. It could mean none of the above. Again, I don’t know, but I suspect, based on people’s responses over the next month, I will garner a very clear picture of what I should or shouldn’t do moving forward.”

Sanford built his political career as a fiscal conservative, in both Congress and as South Carolina’s governor.

The national debt now stands at more than $22.5 trillion, a number that has skyrocketed even amid strong economic times and low interest rates. The debt has grown by more than $2 trillion since Trump took office, fueled by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the Republican-controlled Congress passed in 2017.

Sanford left Congress at the beginning of this year, after losing a Republican primary to a Trump-backed challenger. That challenger lost the general election to Rep. Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamDemocratic group launches .5M in ads backing vulnerable Dems on drug prices Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment White House makes push for paid family leave and child care reform MORE (D).

Sanford’s second stint in Congress bookended a career he built as an outsider even within his own party. First elected in 1994, Sanford honored his pledge to serve just three terms in the House. He later won two terms as South Carolina’s governor, though his second term was derailed after a very public affair and the end of his marriage.

Sanford returned to Congress in 2013, after winning a special election to replace now-Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTrump to sign order penalizing colleges over perceived anti-Semitism on campus: report Here are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements MORE (R). After losing renomination, he took a position as a teaching fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.