South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford already has one supporter in Congress for his potential long-shot bid to challenge President Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary: newly independent Michigan Rep. Justin Amash.
Amash, who left the Republican Party in early July and has repeatedly declined to rule out a presidential bid of his own, told CNN that Sanford “would be a great candidate.”
“I know Mark. He’s thoughtful, he’s humble, he’s learned from his mistakes and grown, and I think we really need a person like that in the White House,” Amash said.
“My perspective is that the party is lost for quite a while and that this party system is corrosive, and I don’t think it can be redeemed anytime soon,” he added. “But it’s good to have voices out there. And the more voices you have, the more likely a miracle could happen.”
Amash again brushed off questions about his own presidential ambitions, saying he was focused on providing independent representation for his constituents in Congress.
He did rule out the possibility of running in the GOP primary as Sanford’s running mate.
“I don’t want to get involved in the Republican primary in that way,” Amash told CNN.
A Sanford run would be quixotic. Once a rising star in the party, he resigned as chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2009 amid a scandal over his infidelity — including his infamous claim that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while he was in fact in Argentina with his mistress. He was subsequently elected to Congress, where he’d served before becoming governor, but lost his primary in 2018.
If he runs, Sanford would face a Republican Party increasingly unified behind Trump. An overwhelming 90% of Republicans approve of the President, according to Gallup polling last month. But Sanford could present an alternative for a subset of conservatives who are uncomfortable with supporting Trump and have sought a standard bearer in the 2020 race.
In 2016, Trump faced pushback from conservative Republicans loosely aligned under the umbrella of “Never Trump” all the way into the general election. But the likelihood of strong resistance to his nomination from within in 2020 has dwindled as the Republican Party has become thoroughly Trump’s party. Republicans in Congress who previously harbored strong doubts about Trump have only become more allied with the President over the past two years, and some of his fiercest GOP critics have left the national stage.
Reluctance to publicly split with Trump is increasingly a primary motivation among elected Republicans. This week, after Trump told progressive House freshmen women of color to “go back” to their own countries in a series of racist tweets — despite the fact that the four lawmakers in question are all American citizens and only one of them was born abroad — Republicans have been reluctant to publicly push back on the President, with only four House Republicans voting on Tuesday to condemn Trump’s remarks.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who ran as the vice presidential candidate on the Libertarian Party ticket in 2016, is already running against Trump in the GOP primary, but he has failed to gain traction. Sanford’s conservative credentials on issues like abortion and government spending could appeal to religious anti-Trump voters who haven’t been energized by Weld’s moderate record on social issues.
In the long run, a Sanford primary challenge, even if it fails as expected, may build a base of supporters who could ultimately rally behind a third-party candidate in the general election — potentially Amash, now that he’s left the Republican Party.
Amash said that he hadn’t spoken with Sanford in recent weeks and didn’t know in advance that his former colleague was considering a presidential bid.
Sanford announced on Tuesday that he will consider launching a campaign over the next 30 days, focusing on government spending and the national debt. His potential candidacy was first reported by the Post and Courier.
“There is little to no — I guess I’d say no discussion of debt, deficit, and government spending in Washington these days,” Sanford said on CNN.
“I’ve watched two Democratic presidential debates, and there’s been zero discussion on both of them as to this issue,” he added. “The President has said we’re not going to touch the very things that touch debt and spending. So I think we’re walking our way into one heck of a financial storm, and there’s no discussion.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the position Sanford resigned from. It was chairman of the Republican Governors Association.