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Trump Gets a Fiscally Focused Challenger

Michael Rainey

Mark Sanford announced Sunday that he is running for president, becoming the third Republican to challenge President Trump for the nomination in 2020. The former South Carolina congressman said he would focus on fiscal issues as part of a larger effort to turn Republicans away from Trump and back toward the issues that occupied the GOP before the president took control of the party and the political landscape.

“I think we need to have a conversation on what it means to be a Republican,” Sanford said on Fox News Sunday. “I think that as a Republican Party, we have lost our way. … The epicenter of where I’m coming from is that we have lost our way on debt and deficits and spending.”

Sanford joins two other challengers — former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh — who likely have little chance of defeating Trump.

In addition to the constraints imposed by limited financial support, there’s no indication that a majority of Republicans have much interest in changing direction on policy. Trump has an 87% approval rating with Republican voters in one recent poll, and the party is reportedly taking steps to eliminate challengers by scrapping primaries and caucuses in Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina.

But winning the nomination may not be the only goal Sanford and the other challengers have in mind. Weld recently pointed out that incumbent presidents facing challenges from within their own parties tend to lose the general election. And as NPR’s Tamara Keith wrote Sunday, “Trump's opponents are well aware of this history and are hoping for a repeat of what happened to one-term presidents such as George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Each faced a major primary challenger from within his own party, and each went on to be denied a second term.”

Trump has shown little concern about his new challengers so far, though. Mocking Sanford, Weld and Walsh on Twitter Monday, the president wrote, “The Three Stooges, all badly failed candidates, will give it a go!”

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