MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump has another Republican challenger for the 2020 election. This morning, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, also a former member of Congress, announced that he would run for the Republican nomination. So now there are three Republican challengers. Mr. Sanford served two stints in the House of Representatives and was the governor of South Carolina from 2003 to 2011. And he's with us now on the line.
Mr. Sanford, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
MARK SANFORD: My pleasure.
MARTIN: So President Trump's approval rating among Republicans has consistently been close to 90%. So why you, and why now?
SANFORD: I think what's telling about those same polls is about half the respondents say that they would like to see the president challenged because they'd like to see a primary, because they do believe that there needs to be a debate of ideas within Republicans. It's not taking place right now.
MARTIN: Well, the party in your state voted yesterday to not even hold a Republican primary in 2020. So what do you do now?
SANFORD: I think all of us should find it a little bit curious. I mean, you know, in the world of politics, if you can stack up a 90% win, you go with it, particularly if it's the first in the South primary, given the signals it'll send to subsequent states and subsequent primaries that'll take place that would follow South Carolina. But they elected not to do that.
MARTIN: Is the goal to beat the president or to weaken him or to subject his policies and behavior to some sort of intraparty scrutiny?
SANFORD: I think that we need to have a conversation and debate on what it means to be a Republican. Traditionally, the Republican Party stood for some level of financial conservatism. That seems to have been thrown out the window of late, as you see, got instance, with this latest debt deal, the president adding $2 trillion of additional debt to the national debt and a third of a trillion dollars in new spending over the next two years without even a debate.
I think we need to have a conversation about where we're going on trade. I think we need to have a conversation with regard to institutions and political norms which the president has thrown out. But that has historically been the glue that has held together that balance of power that makes our system work, and I think we need to have a conversation on town.
MARTIN: I think that some might argue that the way that those intra-party debates take place is exactly in the kinds of positions that you have had in down-ballot races. I mean, you lost the Republican primary to a candidate endorsed by President Trump, so I think some might argue, asked and answered.
SANFORD: Well, there's a difference between a battle and a war, and I would say that as Republicans, in some cases, we're winning battles but losing wars. So what happened in that race after I lost the primary was that for the first time in about 50 years, the seat went Democrat.
And the same story could be told in a host of other districts across this country, wherein suburban moms and young millennials and go down the list turned out in droves against the president or the president's messengers in Congress. That's why you saw the House flip as it did just this last election cycle. I think that we need to not only connect the immediate battle but to the larger battle's going forward, because if not, I think the Republican Party has profound problems ahead given the change in demographics and given the tone that they see coming out of the White House.
MARTIN: Speaking of tone, I mean, Democrats have - many Democrats, including virtually all of the presidential contenders, have made the case that President Trump is unfit for any number of reasons, not least of which is tone and not least of which is that he is perpetually dishonest. For example, just this weekend, there was this issue of whether he personally distorted the weather maps to reconcile them with incorrect information that he had given earlier in the week and would not abandon for some reason.
You know, unfortunately, it's been demonstrated that there have been times when you have been personally dishonest during your time in office. So if voters highly value personal honesty, why would you be the right choice for them?
SANFORD: Well, I think that it's important to separate a mistake in life, which we all make. And, you know, I've come to believe that we all have feet of clay. We all wish we could rewind, play in a chapter of our life. The question is, is it a trend of continual misleading folks? Or is it an anomaly? And if you'd look at the whole of my life, what you'd see is the big standout is in 2009.
I think the question is, did I learn from it? Contrast it with the president has suggested in saying that there's nothing that he regrets. There's deep regret from my end, and I think what's equally telling is the people who knew me best, in the wake of that event, those very folks sent me to the United States Congress to represent them in Washington.
MARTIN: So you've made the debt and deficit your top reasons for challenging the president. So if it happens that either through your efforts or those of others, the president is not re-elected but let's say a Democrat who supports more expansive spending, for example, does win, will that have been worth it?
SANFORD: You know, you can't control what you can't control. You know, the idea of saying, no, we've just picked a horse, we have to lock everything in place around that particular candidate is at odds with the American way. The American way is predicated on competition. I think, at the end of the day, the Republican Party will be better off and stronger if we have a robust competition of ideas rather than not.
MARTIN: And before we let you go, your sort of basket of issues, some might argue - would argue for an independent run where you could kind of assemble the list of sort of legislative and tonal priorities that you consider most important. Have you considered that?
SANFORD: People have suggested it. But, you know, and I believe in the Republican Party - at least, the one that used to be - and I think it needs to get back to level keel on that front, and I'm going to push it toward that end.
MARTIN: That is the former South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, also a former member of Congress. He's announced today that he is running for the Republican nomination for the presidency.
Mr. Sanford, thank you so much for talking to us. I hope we'll talk again.
SANFORD: Thank you.
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