Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordMark Sanford calls Graham 'a canary in the coalmine' on GOP's relationship with Trump Top cyber Pentagon official overseeing defense contractor project placed on leave Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE (R-S.C.) described a state of fear in Republican politics, saying that incumbent lawmakers are "running for cover" out of concern that they could be on the receiving end of the president's tweets.
Speaking to NBC's "Meet the Press," Sanford rebuffed Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE's (R-Tenn.) suggestion that the GOP has taken on "cultish" characteristics, but said lawmakers are fearful of breaking with President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE.
"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 a presidential tweet," Sanford said.
"And from a popular standpoint, it's almost a Faustian bargain," he added. "I'll pander to you if you pander to me."
Sanford's remarks came days after he was defeated by South Carolina state Rep. Katie Arrington in a GOP primary race widely seen as a referendum on the congressman's support for Trump.
While Sanford largely supported Trump's legislative agenda, he has not hesitated to criticize the president's character.
Last year, he told Politico that Trump "has fanned the flames of intolerance." Sanford has also been among few Republican lawmakers to call on the president to release his tax returns.
Shortly before polls closed in South Carolina on Tuesday, Trump tweeted a last-minute endorsement of Arrington and rebuked Sanford, saying the congressman has been "very unhelpful to me in my campaign to [Make America Great Again]," — a move Sanford has partially blamed for his loss.
Sanford told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd that the Republican Party and the conservative movement more broadly has become less about principles and more about loyalty to Trump himself.
"I think we've got to do a whole lot of soul-searching in this party," he said.