The former governor of South Carolina visited New Hampshire and Wednesday as the days closed in on a self-imposed deadline for deciding whether to take on President Trump in a presidential primary.
Mark Sanford was a two-term Republican governor of South Carolina in the 2000s and a congressman for 11 years.
On July 17, Sanford told The Associated Press he would take 30 days to decide. He has a couple of more days left, he said, and he will use all of them to decide.
“I still feel conflicted,” Sanford said a primary challenge.
“My head says this is an impossibly complex, gargantuan task. My gut still says there’s something wrong out there that needs to be talked about in terms of what it means to be a Republican these days, what we believe as a nation in terms of generational equity and spending beyond our means.”
Sanford, 59, visited New Hampshire on Wednesday, the day before Trump will hold a campaign rally in Manchester. He met with media, attended a breakfast of Republicans and held private meetings with key New Hampshire Republicans.
In 2009, Sanford disappeared for six days when he was supposedly hiking the Appalachian Trail. That disappearance led to the discovery of an extramarital affair, an Argentine mistress and the breakup of his 20-year marriage.
“Everybody’s got a chapter or an experience in their life that they wish they could push rewind-play on,” Sanford said. “In contrast to the experience of the President, when he said, ‘I regret nothing,’ most people out there do regret different chapters of their life, and I deeply regret that particular chapter of my life and how I handled it.”
Despite the headlines, Sanford stuck out his term as governor and was elected to Congress in a special election in 2013. He went on to win two subsequent terms before angering Trump and losing a Republican primary last year to a Trump-endorsed candidate.
Only one Republican has so far announced a primary challenge against Trump, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld.
Michael Dennehy, who worked on John McCain’s two successful New Hampshire primary campaigns, said Sanford has great ideas and is realistic that the best he can do is create a dialogue about the future of the Republican Party.
“I don’t see any chances of beating Trump in the primary,” said Dennehy, who is not affiliated with any campaign. At best, a Trump opponent will only get 20 to 30 percent of the primary vote, he said.
During an interview with Union Leader publisher Joseph McQuaid and president Brendan McQuaid, Sanford quoted Milton Friedman and Thomas Jefferson. He expressed appreciation of New Hampshire summer weather and its motto. He has yet to visit Iowa.
He criticized the national debt and trade policies under Trump. He said he’s not in favor of removing monuments to Confederate war heroes across the South.
Three times he went off the record to give sometimes lengthy responses to questions.
In the aftermath of 2009, his wife obtained a divorce and remarried. He said he has a great relationship with his four sons, who are young adults.
The public failure has made him a better person: more humble, more willing to speak to others he disagrees with, more empathetic.
“Ultimately, you come to believe it’s our brokenness that connects us as humans. It’s not the fake pretend of you’re perfect, you’re perfect, I’m perfect,” Sanford said.
And his second chance in politics means that he owes it to people “shoot it down the middle.”
“I wasn’t looking for a fight with Trump,” Sanford said of his disputes with Trump while a Congressman, “but if one came along, I wasn’t looking the other way.”